By Karen Isaacs.
It Shoulda Been You is the “sleeper” of this Broadway musical season. Few were talking about this small, delightful musical before it opened perhaps because it was not a “big” budget show and the composer//lyricist and the book writer are relatively unknowns.
The last time I remember this happening is when Drowsy Chaperone opened on Broadway with minimal advance hype and swept everyone away.
It Shoulda Been You may not sweep everyone away, but it will delight you and should find an audience.
The plot is relatively basic. It is the wedding of Rebecca and Brian and as is often the case, stress is rising. For one, neither family is exactly happy with the choice of spouse. Rebecca’s Jewish family is convinced that her former boyfriend, Marty, should be the groom. Brian’s WASP parents have little in common with Rebecca’s and his mother, in particular, does not like the idea of “losing” her son to another woman.
Rebecca’s sister, Jenny, is being called upon to oversee most of the details with the help of the wedding planner. Although older, she feels she cannot compete with the pretty and slim Rebecca. In addition, Rebecca’s cousin is trying seduce any man she sees.
The complication, besides the normal wedding day jitters and tensions, is that the former boyfriend, Marty, learns about the wedding and is determined to stop it.
The denouement is just enough of a surprise that it should not be revealed here. Let’s just say that it may not be expected by most audience members but is a perfect finish for this piece.
This is a situation almost everyone has been in either as a family member or guest at such a wedding — and does any parent think any potential spouse appropriate or good enough? So there is built in appeal to the story.
Brian Hargrove who wrote the book manages to develop the humor without making it in a TV sitcom. He starts by making all the characters basically likeable. They have their foibles but you really do like them, even Brian’s parents and Marty; the characters that might be the most unlikable due to their actions turn out to be endearing.
Certainly the cast and the work of director David Hyde Pierce contributes mightily to making them likable. Rebecca’s mother, Judy, could be a typical annoying “Jewish mother” but Tyne Daly gives her a touch of humor that causes you to be slightly annoyed with her but never to dislike her. The same goes for Harriet Harris as the groom’s mother. You sense the core of both desperation and loneliness.
While Daly gets top billing, Lisa Howard as Jenny, the bride’s sister really steals the show. She opens the show with a funny but ultimately touching song, “I Never Wanted This” and she copes with the tensions of the day with calm while all around her are slowly losing control.
Sierra Boggess is the bride, Rebecca and David Burtka the groom, Brian. Each is in fine voice but these are probably the least developed of the characters.
As is often the case in actual weddings, the fathers are less important to the story though Brian’s father, played by Michael X. Martin does have a wonderful song and dance number with his son, “Back in the Day.” It was good to see Chip Zien as the bride’s father, Murray, though he does not have enough to do.
That brings me to Edward Hibbert and Josh Grisetti. Hibbert plays the experienced, unflappable, and always anticipating wedding planner with just the right mixture of camp and sarcasm. He has seen it all — or at least he thinks he has. But this wedding has even him surprised!
Grisetti plays Marty, the ex-boyfriend with desperation and determination. All the bride’s family thinks he should be the groom as they tell him in the funny song, “It Shoulda Been You,” but both Rebecca and Jenny are afraid he will try to spoil or stop the wedding. In other hands, or with another director, Marty could be dislikable but Grisetti makes him charming even while you are unsure about his actions.
The music and lyrics are serviceable; I doubt any songs will linger in your memory. The set by scenic designer Anna Louizos recreates a generic hotel ballroom and other spaces and the costumes by William Ivey Long also suit the scenes. This is not a dancing show, but choreographer Josh Rhodes does a good job with a cast that does not necessarily include stellar dancers.
David Hyde Pierce does an excellent job in his directing debut. He and his cast create believable characters that you are rooting for, he keeps the pace moving and emphasizes the laughs without turning it into a superficial farce.
It Shoulda Been You at the Brooks Arkinson Theatre on West 47th St. is a very enjoyable 95 minutes of songs and fun. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.