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A CurtainUp Review
It Shoulda Been You
By Elyse Sommer
Many things old
Very little new
Jokes more borrowed than Newish
and it's certainly True-ish
That this shoulda been more styl-ish
Book writer and lyricist Bryan Hargrove and composer Barbara Anselmi, also credited as the concept creator, have tried to freshen up the once popular shtik filled wedding comedy. And so, in addition to funny (or aiming to be funny) tensions between the motheres of this show's Jewish bride and Gentile groom, they've tossed in prejudices about gay marriage and plus-sized women under the chupah. None of it provides the sought for surprising and edgy relevancy. And that applies even to the mid-point developments that you might not see coming from song number one. Hargrove's lyrics are occasionally witty but Anselmi's songs are consistently bland and repetitive.
This not so new, new musical also begs thess questions: How did this underwhelming material attract such outstanding on stage and behind-the scenes talent? And can even their splendid work justify the show's move from New Jersey to Broadway?
The show has been tightened and enhanced for its Broadway run with several excellent cast additions along with costume designer par excellence William Ivey Long. There's no question that the top drawer cast and production values plus David Hyde Pierce's directorial debut have fueled the trip across the Hudson River.
The cast is so good that you can almost forgive the weak plot: It plays out in a luxury hotel (effectively designed by Anna Louizos) where Steinberg-Howard nuptials are to take place(Rebecca Steinberg 0Sierra Boggess, Brian Howard -David Burtka). Stage managing the affair are wedding planner Albert (Edward Hibbert) and Judy Steinberg (Tyne Daly) the bossy Jewish mom. Judy's o pre-wedding activities include a beauty parlor session to which she's invited Georgette Howard (Harriet Harris). Also on hand are Murray Steinberg (Chip Zien) and George Howard (Michael X. Martin), the two dads. Adding to the bound to explode romantic complications there's Jenny (Lisa Howard) the big sister (both in terms of age and her dress size, bridesmaid Annie Shepard (Montego Glover), best man Greg Madison (Nick Spangler). Oh, and let's not forget Aunt Sheila (Anne L. Nathan, who also doubles as an observant and outspoken drunk) and Uncle Morty (Adam Heller). There's also the inevitable stop-the-wedding suitor, Marty Kaufman (Josh Grisetti), who turns out to be the one who the Jewish contingent feels "shoulda" been the groom. (This is the second time the gifted Ray Bolger look alike I first admired in a revival of Enter Laughing has landed in a show unlikely to be a big hit — a revival of Neil Simon's Broadway Bound never opened, and a rare production of Red Eye of Love didn't do much better).
It's quite something to see how these thespian pros handle this weak play happening to a group of ace performers scenario. Tyne Daly, who is incapable of anything but excellence, actually manages to bring some warmth and originality to her stereotypical Jewish mother role. Her colleagues also do their utmost to imbue their characters with humor and personality beyond what the script allows.
The unmemorable songs notwithstanding, Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris are wonderfully engaging in several solos which also happen to have the best lyrics (Daly in "Nice" and "What They Never Tell You; Harris in "Where Did I Go Wrong?"). Lisa Howard is the show's big belter and she gets the most solos, though Sierra Boggess does "eventually get one big number, "A Little Bit Less." The choreography is minimal with the only one that adds a bit to the fun the "Back In the Day" — a soft shoe duo by Nick Spangler and Michael X Martin.
Probably inspired by all the doors in Louizos's set, David Hyde Pierce directs the play as if it were a farce. A good idea except that what he has to work with is a lot of frenzied activity rather than a genuine door-slamming farce.
To be perfectly fair, the audience at the performance I attended seemed to having a great time. They laughed at every joke as if they'd never heard its many variations before. And Simon Saltzman, my New Jersey colleague, found it amusing enough to see it in his home state and again on Broadway. It therefore remains to be seen if this shoulda stayed in New Jersey or if this hard-working cast can keep the ticket sellers at the Brooks Atkinson busy.