If you leave your sense of disbelief checked in the cloak room at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway, you might just have a fun time as you watch this marriage romp unwind, filled with twists and turns that are always one jump ahead of you during this intermissionless improbable farce.
It all begins simply enough as we first meet Jenny Steinberg, the plump unmarried older sister of the bride to be, who lets us know in her first number, “I Never Wanted This” that she’d hoped one day to be the bride, not the organizer of her beautiful younger sister Rebecca’s wedding to Brian Howard. The bride is Jewish and her groom is not, and we prepare for a story of this mixed marriage, expecting to find its humor in an Abie’s Irish Rose spinoff musical comedy. It’s all set in the St. George Hotel, an elegant unit set that serves as foyer, dressing room, ladies room, corridor and just about any other spot in which the wedding party might appear.
The cast of characters includes all the usual suspects – both parents of the bride and groom, the couple’s best friends, Greg (Nick Spangler) and Annie (Montego Glover), who will serve as maid of honor and best man, the bride’s ex-boyfriend, Marty Kaufman (Josh Grisetti), whom we are led to believe is still in love with her and determined to stop the wedding. A wedding planner named Albert is on hand, prepared for any and all emergencies, and there will be many.
There’s even an Uncle Morty (Adam Heller) and an Aunt Sheila (Ann L. Nathan) to complete the gathering, and all of them will have their moment in song and story with which to take us down the plot’s side roads, keeping us interested and on our toes. And there’s Murray Steinberg, (the funny Chip Zien), as the father of the bride..
The two Mothers are played by the highly original and quite glorious Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris. Daly, who hilariously demands to be in full charge of everything, is at the top of her considerable form as mother of the bride, and Ms. Harris has never been more caustic, attractive, or sharp as the very odd mother of the groom. I can’t go into their involvements without having spoiler alert bells go off resoundingly, because by the time everything ends happily, only the most cynical of you will have figured out how the book authors of this original musical have managed to conclude their story as happily as they have. I join Albert, the wedding planner, who at one point late in the proceedings, fervently thanks God for not letting him call in sick today. He is played by the very funny Edward Hibbert who is always welcome at this sort of funfest.
Brian Hargrove is the author of the book and lyrics. His book, which as mentioned begins cozily and seemingly predictably, curves about 15 minutes in with surprise twists that could never happen, but by that time, I found myself not missing my sense of disbelief, which was resting comfortably in the cloak room downstairs. His lyrics, and the music of Barbara Anselmi are less distinguished, but they do attempt to further the story or reveal character, and are at worst serviceable and at best sprightly.
The title song works well for five of the principals, and “Nice” and “What They Never Tell You” offers Tyne Daly a chance to add her vast acting talent to musical numbers that work well as she shows real star power with them. Ms.Harris has her center stage material too, with “What Did I Do Wrong?” that allows her to own the stage as she performs it. “Jenny’s Blues” is an important number for the talented Lisa Howard as the older sister.
All of it has been adroitly staged by David Hyde Pierce, here making his Broadway debut as director of a musical. His years onstage as actor have served him well, and his stage pictures are always neat and clean. There is minimal choreography by Josh Rhodes but its non-dancing principals are well served by it, the young leads as well as the character actors who are charming as they occasionally tap out their feelings.
It Shoulda Been You is a feel good show and somehow they’ve managed to deal with virtually all the current changes in social behavior. Blacks, gays, aging parents, immature youngsters, self-doubting spinsters, oversexed women in middle age crisis, the value in long term relationships that work, these and more are all dealt with in ways that could only happen in a light-hearted musical comedy that has something more on its mind than just tapping your troubles away.
By the time it was over, It Shoulda Been You had gained my respect, and I found I’d had a most enjoyable time. As I’ve said, none of it could have happened, not in one day, not in one family, not in 100 uninterrupted minutes, but to paraphrase the wedding planner, I’m sure glad I didn’t call in sick today.
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.