It may not be high dramatic art, but the clever rhymes, tuneful melodies and terrific comedic performances of It Shoulda Been You, now onstage at the George Street Playhouse, take the play beyond the sit-com clichés and make for a very satisfying theatrical experience.
By virtue of its dramatic situation—an interfaith wedding— this original musical by Brian Hargrove and Barbara Anselmi is full of drama, especially when neither family is thrilled with the partner their children have picked. In fact, It Shoulda Been You could be the prequel to the beloved sit-com Bridget Loves Bernie, but this time it's Jewish Rebecca Steinberg marrying Catholic Brian Howard. Threatening to blow the whole ceremony sky high are the couple's parents, especially their mothers, Judy Steinberg and Georgette Howard, each distrustful of the other and not wanting to make "Nice." The task of getting the day off without a hitch falls on the shoulders of Rebecca's older sister, the unmarried and overweight (but with "such a pretty face") Jenny. But it's the sudden appearance of Rebecca's uninvited former boyfriend Marty that really throws a wrench into the wedding gears, leading to a completely unexpected but delicious reversal that turns the whole wedding on its head (no spoilers here). (Above:Richard Kline, Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris and Howard McGillin; photo by T. Charles Erickson)
Fresh from a stint as Maria Callas in Broadway's Master Class, Tyne Daly shows she's a class act. With great comedic timing and vocal pipes, Daly inhabits Jewish mother Judy Steinberg's skin, complete with disdainful looks, dismissive gestures and a New York intonation that sounds totally convincing. Her delivery of Yiddish expressions is spot-on! As the buttoned-up Georgette, Harriet Harris exudes WASPism and dismay at being displaced as the only woman in her son's life. Attired in a fuschia dress, hat and gloves for the ceremony, she stands out from the bride's family like a sore thumb, which she is. Richard Kline is terrific as the long-suffering Murray Steinberg, and Howard McGillin portrays the chilly George Howard very well. (Above: Richard Kline and Tyne DAly; photo by T. Charles Erickson)
As the bride Rebecca Steinberg, Jessica Hershberg's pre-wedding jitters are comical and natural, and Matthew Hydzik's attempts to pronounce Yiddish expressions bring down the house. Murray says it sounds like Brian learned Yiddish from a nun! Edward Hibbert plays wedding planner/"nuptial Houdini" Albert very broadly and is very droll as he takes every setback or change in stride, proclaiming, "I live to serve"! Carla Duren as maid of honor Annie and Curtis Holbrook as best man Greg provide good support, especially raising the roof with an "original song" they wrote for the couple, "Love You Till the Day (You Die)," the full meaning of which is revealed in the second act.
While Tyne Daly may be the celebrity "name" in the show, Lisa Howard as Jenny Steinberg is its star. From the moment she opens her mouth as the curtain rises to the satisfying conclusion, this luscious actress/singer shows she is a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, she's been given five songs in the show, all of which she performs beautifully, especially the one where she poignantly voices her wish to be called "beautiful," despite her size. David Josefsberg as Marty is her perfect foil, especially in the patter song "Who" and a lovely duet with Jenny, "Whatever." (Above: Lisa Howard, Edward Hibbert, Jessica Hersbherg, Matthew Hydzik, Carla Duren and Curtis Holbrook; photo by T. Charles Erickson)
The comic chaos plays out on a great set designed by Anna Louizos; with many doors and rolling chairs and a sink, the space becomes a ladies' room, a bride's room, a beauty salon, and a hotel lobby in the wink of an eye. And with some people in the audience seated at tables in front of the stage, we really feel like we are at a wedding! William Ivey Long's lovely costumes appropriately telegraph the character of the person wearing them. Greg Anthony's musical direction never overpowers the actors, and while there are no "big" production numbers, Noah Racy's choreography gets the actors moving agilely around the stage (especially Harriet Harris on a rolling chair). And first-time director David Hyde Pierce is to be commended for maintaining the mayhem as the day falls apart. eliciting the wonderful performances from the cast and keeping the comedic elements from descending into burlesque.
On its face, It Shoulda Been You qualifies as broad comedy, but the play tackles serious themes, as well—the "need" for all women to be married, discrimination on the basis of physical size, homophobia and the meaning of the word "family"—all with good humor. It Shoulda Been You is billed as a musical comedy for anyone who has parents, and you'll really enjoy this one, especially because the ones on stage aren't yours!
It Shoulda Been You runs through November 6 at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. For performance times and tickets, call 732.246.7717 or visit www.GSPonlin.org.