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It Shoulda Been You

Not a classic, but funny, insightful and appealing new musical comedy.

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Chip Zien, Anne L. Nathan, Josh Grisetti, Tyne Daly and Adam Heller in a scene from “It Shoulda Been You” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Chip Zien, Anne L. Nathan, Josh Grisetti, Tyne Daly and Adam Heller in a scene from “It Shoulda Been You” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Sometimes a weak play is blessed with such a fine production that it is worth seeing.  Just being in the presence of first rate performers squeezing every last bit of humor and pathos out of not so hot material is brilliant.  It Shoulda Been You fits that description to a “T.”  The show at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre is a throwback to the comedies of Neil Simon with some Abie’s Irish Rose and a hint of the Love Boat TV show thrown in for good measure.  It’s a mess of clichés about Jews, Wasps, Blacks, gays and straights, but with its heart in the right place—no harm, no foul.

It Shoulda Been You is the new musical by Brian Hargrove (book and lyrics) and Barbara Anselmi (music) and marks the Broadway directing debut of Broadway veteran David Hyde Pierce.  The theme is a wedding.  Nothing new about that.  The two families are of two religions.  Nothing new about that, either.  What sets Shoulda apart are its hilariously surprising twists and the perfectly hewn comic turns by a cast headed by three brilliant ladies:  Lisa Howard, Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris, each adroit comic actors.

Rebecca Steinberg, Jew (a radiant Sierra Boggess) is about to marry Brian Howard, goy (a charming David Burtka), at a posh hotel.   The wedding has been organized by good old Jenny, Rebecca’s overweight, under-appreciated, romance-starved older sister (Ms. Howard in a marvelously layered performance).  Rebecca and Jenny’s parents are Judy (Ms. Daly, dryly hilarious) and Murray (Chip Zien, sweet, yet strong) who aren’t too sure about Brian’s folks, Georgette (a divinely droll Ms. Harris) and George (Michael X. Martin, the perfect Wasp).

Also in attendance are Brian’s pal Greg Madison (Nick Spangler, handsome with a spectacular rock tenor) and Rebecca’s BFF Annie Shepard (Montego Glover who slyly overcomes dull writing).

Sierra Boggess, Nick Spangler, Montego Glover and David Burtka in a scene from “It Shoulda Been You” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Sierra Boggess, Nick Spangler, Montego Glover and David Burtka in a scene from “It Shoulda Been You” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Popping up—literally—in one of the Brooks Atkinson’s boxes is Marty Kaufman, Rebecca’s former boyfriend whom Judy strongly favored as hubby material for Rebecca.  Josh Grisetti, a physically and vocally deft actor, takes Marty to gloriously kinetic heights as he races through Anna Louizos’ pseudo-elegant, multi-doored and multi-tiered hotel set. The equally witty costumes, from waiters to bride to parents, are by the always dependable William Ivey Long.

Tending to every last minute nuptial detail is the marvelous Edward Hibbert as Albert the wedding planner—fey, psychic and amusing.  His enablers are Walt and Mimsy, two hotel waiters who are the winking, smirking Greek chorus of the musical.  Adam Heller and Anne L. Nathan zip in and out trading quips—sometimes in song—with each other and Albert.  They double up as Uncle Morty and Aunt Sheila, cartoony mishpocha (family members).   Both Heller and Nathan are superb character actors, hardly needing the wig and costume changes to put across their two distinct portrayals each.

The wedding proceeds with the usual ridiculous glitches—food problems, hair style choices—but it’s the surprise plot twists that enliven what might have been a run-of-the-mill, we’ve-seen-it-all-before storyline.  How the authors reveal who gets whom and who loses whom makes It Shoulda Been You a goldmine of laughs.

The pleasantly serviceable songs (which include additional lyrics by Jill Abramovitz, Michael Cooper, Carla Rose Fisher, Ernie Lijoi and Will Randall) range from Jenny’s complaint, “I Never Wanted This” to Greg and Annie’s twisted rock send-up, “Love You Till the Day,” their gift to the newlyweds.  Ms. Harris’s “Where Did I Go Wrong” is a blissfully hilarious dissection of her maternal philosophy which leads to one of her priceless bits towards the end of the show.  Ms. Tyne’s numbers, Judy’s acerbically ironic “Nice” and “Jenny’s Blues,” and “Albert’s Turn” (sung by Mr. Hibbert) help explicate each of those characters.  “Beautiful,” Jenny’s sarcastically bitter lament about her looks, as performed by Ms. Howard, was touching and upsetting in equal measure.

The entire cast seems to have responded well to Mr. Hyde Pierce’s spin on this rich, but flawed material.  They’re all on the same page stylistically and always at ease with each other, even as the pace begins to get frantic.

It Shoulda Been You may not be a classic, but it is funny, robust and appealing.

It Shoulda Been You (through August 9, 2015)

Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets call 877-250-2929 or visit http://www.ItShouldaBeenYou.com

Running time: one hour and 45 minutes without an intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (331 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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