'It Shoulda Been You': Theater Review

It Shoulda Been You Production Still - H 2015
Joan Marcus

It Shoulda Been You Production Still - H 2015

A textbook example of how expert staging and performances can spin tired material into comic gold

David Hyde Pierce directs a talented ensemble of comedy pros including Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris and Edward Hibbert in this new musical about the troubled impending nuptials of a Jewish bride and Catholic groom.

That old popular-comedy chestnut Abie's Irish Rose is given a modern twist in the new musical It Shoulda Been You, which plays like vintage dinner theater infused with a Borscht Belt sensibility. That it nonetheless manages to be truly amusing is a testament to the talent both on and offstage: such comic pros as Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris and Edward Hibbert manage to make the hoariest of jokes uproarious, while director David Hyde Pierce has staged the proceedings with a brisk expertise that makes the 100 intermission-less minutes fly by. It’s the sort of show that practically redefines the term "guilty pleasure."

The plot concerns the impending nuptials of the Jewish Rebecca (Sierra Boggess) to the Catholic Brian (David Burtka), with family tensions inevitably rising to the fore. Rebecca's zaftig older sister Jenny (a charming Lisa Howard), while happy for her sis, wonders if she'll ever find similar happiness. Meanwhile, matriarchs Judy (Daly) and Georgette (Harris) are consistently at odds, with their hapless husbands (Chip Zien, Michael X. Martin) helplessly watching from the sidelines.

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Schooled by a Yiddish phrase book, Brian perpetually mangles his well-meaning attempts at relating to his soon-to-be in-laws. Other characters figuring prominently in the farcical proceedings — Anna Louizo's two-level hotel set features plenty of doors, although few are actually slammed — are best man Greg (Nick Spangler) and maid of honor Annie (Montego Glover, Memphis); an effete wedding planner (Hibbert) and his two assistants (Adam Heller, Anne L. Nathan, doubling as outrageous relatives); and the bride's former boyfriend Marty (Josh Grisetti), who springs into action to stop the wedding, although, it turns out, not for the reason you'd expect.

The score by composer Barbara Anselmi (also credited with the concept) and book writer-lyricist Brian Hargrove (Hyde Pierce's real-life husband) is utterly negligible, and the show would probably have worked just fine without it. But it does provide the opportunity for some of the performers to shine, especially Howard, whose powerfully sung rendition of "Jenny's Blues" is an undeniable highlight.

On paper, none of the tired jokes revolving around such things as a "panini station" come across as particularly funny. But in the hands of such gifted comic performers as Harris, even such lines as when Georgette, attempting to be conciliatory, tells Judy, "Don't be silly, dear, 'Dreidel, Dreidel's' my new song," score huge laughs. Hibbert, a veteran of 11 seasons of Frasier, is equally riotous in such moments as when, witnessing the tumult surrounding him, he raises his eyes to heaven and proclaims, "Thank you for not letting me call in sick today!"

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Perhaps the true standout is Grisetti who, as his Playbill bio amusingly reminds us, is making his "public" Broadway debut after the ill-fated revival of Neil Simon's Broadway Bound closed in rehearsals. As the frenetic ex-boyfriend, the gangly actor all but steals the show, beginning with his first appearance when his character receives a desperate phone call from Jenny while sitting in one of the theater's boxes.

The characters and situations are hopelessly contrived and formulaic — even Jackie Mason would be embarrassed by much of the Jews vs. Gentiles humor — and the plot twist late in the show will only seem shocking to Middle Americans. Some of the supporting players are hopelessly bland (David Burtka, I'm talking to you), while others, such as the always reliable Zien, are not given enough to do.

But for all its obvious deficiencies, It Shoulda Been You — the title refers to Rebecca's parents' oft-repeated exhortations to the menschy Marty — is the sort of shamelessly lowbrow comedy too often missing from Broadway these days, Larry David's Fish in the Dark notwithstanding. Elitists will sneer, but the matinee ladies are bound to eat it up.

Cast: Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris, Lisa Howard, Sierra Boggess, David Burtka, Montego Glover, Chip Zien, Josh Grisetti, Edward Hibbert, Adam Heller, Michael X. Martin, Anne L. Nathan, Nick Spangler
Book & lyrics: Brian Hargrove
Music & concept: Barbara Anselmi
Director: David Hyde Pierce
Choreographer: Josh Rhodes
Set designer: Anna Louizos
Costume designer: William Ivey Long
Lighting designer: Ken Billington
Sound designer: Nevin Steinberg
Presented by Daryl Roth, Scott Landis, Jane Bergere, Jayne Baron Sherman, Patty Baker, Broadway Across America, Clear Channel Spectacolor, Gloken, James L. Nederlander, John O'Boyle, Judith Ann Abrams/Jacki Barlia Florin