It Shoulda Been You, Book and Lyrics by Brian Hargrove, Music and Concept by Barbara Anselmi. Directed by David Hyde Pierce. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Sierra Boggess, Adam Heller, Anne L. Nathan, Chip Zien, Lisa Howard, Harriet Harris (in pink), Tyne Daly (Blue), Edward Hibbert, Michael X. Martin, Josh Grisetti, David Burtka and in an embrace, Nick Spangler and Montego Glover; photo: provided
What they never tell you. . ."
. . . .is this: No weddings are more likely to entertain outsiders than Jewish weddings where the groom isn't Jewish and his parents are too waspy to be waspish. Or maybe the other way around. Even so, put two mothers together whose children are about to marry and what do you usually get if not trouble, my friend, there's trouble in the host hotel where this wedding is aborning. Or is it aborting? Or is a member of the wedding party? Or. . .Or. . .Or. . .
This new musical at the Brooks Atkinson Theater on Broadway in little old New York City is one of the funniest evenings you can spend anywhere. I've been attending Jewish wedding musicals for most of my life but this one brings a Broadway trademark, the mis-matched mating (since Abie's Irish Rose in the 1920s), to its ultimate conclusion. There are no conceivable twists and turns left untwisted or mis-turned. Imagine a scenario that could upset the calm of the proceedings and the creative folks who created this creation are creatively ten steps ahead of you. I hope I'm not the only person in the room right now who remembers when Broadway musicals were fun, were made to make you laugh, to cry a little, to smile and hum and tap your toes. We've been bogged down in this century (only 15 years old, really!) with dramatic song-shows that deal with "issues" and "tissues" and "mis-use" of our hard-earned funds while we're forced to watch the internal grindings of minds at risk. In this show, instead, there are surprises and laughter, and good songs and laughter, and cliches with laughter and new sorts of undertakings, underwear and laughter. This is the show that makes farce fun and fun hysterical.
Directed by funnyman David Hyde Pierce who has a sense of timing that no one can rival, the one-act, 110 minutes show moves forward like a train on a sloping track at a seventeen-degree angle. The pace increases as Pierce guides his highly talented cast and crew through the misadventures of a pair of lovers who haven't even realized that their inevitable destination is the platform of love. The title of the show, "It Shoulda Been You" and the very funny song that expounds this theory, is the key to the whole play as it introduces a character we've already met and puts him into perspective. Suddenly, and this is early in the play, the concentration of attention shifts from one man to another, from one woman to another and from one coupling to another. And there's still ninety minutes of changes and switch-outs to go.
The two mothers, soon to be mothers-in-law, are played with utter brilliance by Harriet (formerly Sansome) Harris and Tyne Daly. Harris is the uppercrust wasp-woman and mother of the groom, Georgette Harris, and Daly is the Jewish bride's shrewish Mama Judy. If Tyne Daly undertook the role of a frog you would, by the end of the play, know that frog inside out. Here she plays a character (not a caricature) who is upper-borough Jewish and not afraid to be herself in any situation. In Daly's hands this woman, Judy Steinberg, is the perfect, letter-perfect, frustrated mother of an unmarryable daughter and the delighted, overwhelming and controlling mother of the bride (sister of the aforementioned unmarryable one). She bullies and cajoles and exhorts and extorts like no one has since my own mother passed away. That she is playing such a manipulating woman and winning over her audiences is a tribute to the miracle that Tyne Daly is as an actress. And she's sings! And she's very, very good! And she's funny! And she's even better than very, very good!!
Harriet Harris is her equal in this piece. Where Daly is a force, Harris is a maniac. When Daly is indomitable Harris tops her. It's an "anything you can do, I can do also" sort of duet and when the two meet in a hairdressing scene you will laugh yourself silly (it's guaranteed). When Harris wonders in song "Where Did I Go Wrong?" about the way her delightful son has turned out you want to wring her neck, but you can't because she is too funny relating all her machinations to keep her son at her side. When Daly tells you she is "Nice" she sings the rationale with all the self-disclosure of a CIA agent in a Russian tearoom. Pairing these two as matrons only brings more heaps of praise on the director, David Hyde Pierce. You don't have to wonder what possessed him. They did.
The rest of the cast have enough talent to light up the sky over the new World Trade Tower. Chip Zien as Daly's husband is a revelation concerning the place of the Jewish husband. His counterpart on the non-kosher front is played with an off-hand brilliance that exudes fake charm and gin-and-tonics by Michael X. Martin. Their children, the groom and bride, are played with a sincerity that makes the surprises in the story even more uncanny by David Burtka and Sierra Boggess. Her prettiness matches his handsome twinkle and her singing voice even seems to surprise him showing him to be a wonderful actor.
The best man is a role played with all sorts of new meanings by Nick Spangler. The maid-of-honor is danced and sung and kissed (by many) through the talents of Montego Glover. The wedding planner with an answer for just about anything, problem or not, is interpreted by the very funny Edward Hibbert who always seems to have played this role (whatever role he plays) before. He can make an off-hand remark into a standing-ovation exit - which he did three times the night I saw the show. Servants and relatives are played with equal joie by Anne L. Nathan and Adam Heller.
"It Shoulda Been You" almost accidentally centers on the friendship of the bride's older sister, Jenny, played by Lisa Howard and the bride's ex-boyfriend, Marty, played by Josh Grisetti. They are not the stars of the show and they are not the central characters and yet they emerge as the sweetest, most sympathetic pair and what the authors and director have made of them is truly at the heart of the presentation. She is beautiful, sings marvelously, and makes even an ugly dress into a thing of beauty. He is quirky, adorable and one of the fastest runners on the Broadway stage today. When they work together there is enough electricity to run the theater's lightboards.
On a wonderful set with its own set of surprises designed by Anna Louizos and in costumes designed to ironic perfection by William Ivey Long, this new, original musical is drop-dead gorgeous. Ken Billington supplies the finest lighting design he has given us in a decade and even the sound design by Nevin Steinberg proved to be irreproachable.
I trained into New York last Friday night to see this show and I would do it again and again. Now that I know all the dirtly little secrets of the play I would look forward to spending more time with the characters. This farcical show moves so quickly that I am sure I missed a million or so nuances and I want to catch them all. Spoiler Alert: (non-plot-oriented) David Burtka, the groom, is in real life the husband of Neil Patrick Harris and Brian Hargrove (the author) is the real life husband of David Hyde Pierce. And I don't care what anybody says: Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris are mine, all mine.
It Shoulda Been You is playing for the conceivable future at the Brooks Atkinson Theater at 256 W. 47 Street in New York City. Tickets can be purchased a number of ways including through Ticketmaster at 877-250-2929.