Baby It's You! isn't the show that critics wanted it to be. Unsurprisingly, reviewers compared it in their write-ups to the beloved Jersey Boys, which continues to run on Broadway, years after its debut. It's a natural comparison to make, really. Jersey Boys details the rise of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons during approximately the same era that Baby's Shirelles were coming up. The Shirelles would go on to become the most successful all-female group of all-time, which made them prime subjects for a Broadway musical. Especially after Jersey has enjoyed so much success, how could that show go wrong?
But Baby suffers as a result of these lofty expectations. In fact, the show isn't really centered around The Shirelles at all, but focuses on their manager Florence Greenberg and her company, Scepter Records, that would go on to sign some of the biggest names from the 1960s and 1970s. Nevertheless, there's a glaring lack of story, surprises, and twists and turns in this show. Greenberg made tremendous sacrifices to break into the music world and undoubtedly helped pave the way for many others. Yet, the show leaves you longing to know more about the acts she represented, rather than the root of her own actions.
For some fans, the nostalgia of that music and that era is enough to please them; but for the rest of us, we hope for more than just snippets from famous songs when we attend a musical. At the beginning of the second act, it becomes even more clear that the production is covering up for a shortage of plot with a series of performances of songs from other 60s singers and bands. It's not Jersey Boys, or intended to be. Instead, this show is a sampling of some of the greatest hits from an era gone by, remembered fondly by the boomers who want to recapture the greatness of those early days of rock n' roll. In that way, the show reminded me more of Rock of Ages than anything else.
For me, that's the right comparison to draw -- a narrator (who's also a character) walks the audience through a catalog of songs that represented a time of the past, where music mattered more than anything to a select group of people hoping to break into the industry and strike it big. That's a trope that Rock of Ages plays off well, complete with characters who embody stereotypes that we can all spot from a mile away. Baby might have been better off using that as a model, to relive the changing styles of music from the late 50s through the early 70s through The Shirelles' own evolving sound and situation. But, again, that's not what Baby is after.
What was clear, though, from the audience is that they were ready to rock. From the start of the show through the final curtain call, people were singing along, clapping, and tapping their feet with the band. Most people seemed to be having a good time. It was those waits between songs that left people anxious for the next tune to come on, almost as if they were living with commercial breaks that occasionally pop up on their favorite radio stations. Even after all these years, it's the music that really speaks to them.