Music by Barbara Anselmi
Directed by David Hyde Pierce
Reviewed by David Roberts, Theatre Reviews Limited
Whether the audience member chooses to appreciate “It Shoulda Been You” as a delightful old fashioned musical with a solid score, a serviceable book, and an outstanding cast or chooses to explore the musical’s rich layers of plot, either way, the opportunity to experience David Hyde Pierce’s exemplary and creative staging of the new musical at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre is an opportunity not to be missed.
Brian Hargrove (book and lyrics) has constructed a roster of well-rounded characters with an interesting set of authentic and relevant conflicts that drive the rich plot (and several subplots) of “It Shoulda Been You.” The conflicts include interfaith marriages (Rebecca is Jewish and Brian is Christian), racial and cultural stereotyping, ideal body weight, questionable parenting skills, and same sex marriage. This is by no means a bit of fluff; rather, this is a sophisticated musical with a solid score (Barbara Anselmi) and splendid choreography (Josh Rhodes).
When Jenny Steinberg (Lisa Howard) sings “I Never Wanted This” and “This Day,” the audience assumes she is reflecting on her own wedding day. Instead, she is reflecting on her sister Rebecca’s (Sierra Boggess) wedding day. The audience’s “misunderstanding” is cleared up immediately when Jenny’s mother Judy (Tyne Daly) bursts into Jenny’s room and bellows, “Take that veil off, you’ll stretch it out so much it won’t fit your sister.” This convention of “misunderstanding” continues throughout this delightfully entertaining musical and continues to provide surprise after surprise right up until the curtain call. For example when Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend Marty Kaufman (Josh Grisetti) shows up and demands to see Rebecca, everyone assumes he wants a second chance with Rebecca and wants to disrupt her marriage to Brian Howard (David Burtka). Again, this is not so. Brian wants to see Rebecca to convince her that she is about to make a mistake that compromises her integrity and her future.
That mistake is foreshadowed in the touching scene when Rebecca inadvertently gets a smudge on her wedding dress and is ready to cancel the wedding. Rebecca knows that Marty is being supportive in his protestations but the audience is not yet aware of the compelling reason. Rebecca is not who she claims to be nor is her co-maid of honor Annie Shepard (played with a remarkable graciousness by Montego Glover). And Rebecca’s husband-to-be Brian is not who he claims to be nor is his best man Greg Madison (played with just the right amount of mystery by Nick Spangler). As their collective secret is disclosed by the eavesdropping Aunt Sheila (played with a chilling honesty by Anne L. Nathan), the plot unfolds with a delightfully heartfelt charm. There is an abundance of mistaken identity, falsified status, and enough door slamming (of all sorts) to satisfy the aficionado of a variety of theatrical (and operatic) tastes. This could be the place for a spoiler alert extraordinaire but enough hints have been given in the review for the discerning reader to hazard a guess at the abovementioned ‘secret.’
The ensemble cast shines in every way and one performance complements the other with generosity and grace. Rebecca’s mother favorites her over her sister Jenny and Tyne Daly gives Judy Steinberg the perfect balance between acerbic wit and unresolved conflict. Brian’s overprotective mother Georgette Howard (Harriet Harris) does not want her son to marry Rebecca not only because she would rather he marry within his faith but also because she would rather he not marry at all. Ms. Harris brings unbridled hilarity to Georgette’s maternal lament, “Where Did I Go Wrong.” Husbands Murray Steinberg and George Howard are played with appropriate condescension and culpability by Chip Zien and Michael X. Martin respectively. Edward Hibbert plays Albert the consummate wedding planner who also serves as spirit guide for the audience as it sorts through the clues to the resolution of conflict at which point Albert cries out (to the heavens), “Thank you for not letting me call in sick today.” Anne L Nathan doubles as Mimsy the hotel employee; Adam Heller portrays Walt the other hotel employee as well as Rebecca’s Uncle Morty.
Musical numbers that stand out in “It Shoulda BeenYou” are Jenny and Rebecca’s duet “Perfect;” Judy’s solo “Nice;” George and Brian’s duet “Back in the Day;” Jenny’s solo “Beautiful;” Marty’s solo “Whatever;” Rebecca’s plaintive solo “A Little Less Than;” the parents’ quartet “That’s Family;” and the title song “It Shoulda Been You.”
Mothers sometimes get what they want in unexpected ways. Children sometimes get what they need in even more unexpected ways. Families are defined in unexpected ways that transcend faith, religion, and other hurdles to true redemption. All of that and more grace the stage in the must see new musical “It Shoulda Been You.”