By: Paulanne Simmons
It Shoulda Been You coulda been great, if Brian Hargrove had just been able to figure out what kind of a musical he was writing, if he and composer Barbara Anselmi had come up with a more compelling score and if there had been any semblance of choreography. Instead, despite David Hyde Pierce’s energetic direction and a stellar cast, what we get is a sometimes funny musical that can’t decide whether it wants to teach us a lesson on modern marriage or poke fun at ethnic mothers-in-law.
Rebecca Steinberg (Sierra Boggess) and Brian Howard (David Burtka) are about to get married. She’s Jewish. He’s Christian. Neither set of parents is particularly happy about the situation. So what else is new?
George Howard (Michael X. Martin) is worried that Rebecca just wants to get her hands on Brian’s money. Georgette Howard (Harriet Harris) is disturbed that her son is marrying someone of the “Jewish persuasion.” And besides, she’s always wanted to keep Brian for herself, even if that might mean turning him gay.
Judy (Tyne Daly) and Murray Steinberg (Chip Zien) aren’t sure that Brian is the right one either. But they are mostly concerned with making sure family members like Uncle Morty (Adam Heller) and Aunt Sheila (Anne L. Nathan) behave themselves.
Rebecca’s long-suffering, overweight sister, Jenny (Lisa Howard) has done everything possible to make the day run smoothly, despite the constant put-downs of their mother. Best man Greg Madison ((Nick Spangler) and maid of honor Annie Shepard (Montego Glover) know their parts.
Then at the last minute Marty Kaufman ((Josh Grisetti), Rebecca’s old boyfriend, finds out about the marriage and is determined to make sure it doesn’t happen. His efforts do not bear fruit even though both Rebecca’s parents inform him in one of the musical’s better numbers that “It shoulda been You.”
So Rebecca and Brian get married and this mighta been the end of the story.
But right before intermission, Hargrove throws us a curve. In the interests of not spoiling the show for those who might want to see it, let’s say the curve is not only unexpected but also contradictory to everything the audience has previously been told about the people involved. There’s a hole in this plot one could drive a Mack truck through.
But the musical proceeds maniacally through Act II, veering wildly from sincere resolution to tongue-in-cheek shenanigans, until the final song, “That’s Family,” sums up the feeling we are supposed to leave the theater with.
Despite all the above, it is a great pleasure to see Daly and Harris work together and separately on stage. They are consummate actresses and comediennes. Their timing and tone are always perfect. Daly’s “NIce,” in which she increasingly bares her teeth with Georgette, and Harris’s “Where Did I Go Wrong,” a lament for a son who is slipping away, are both high points in the show.
Howard has a beautiful voice she puts to great use in “Jenny’s Blues.” Although many people may buy tickets to see Daly and Harris, they will leave equally happy to h
ave heard this relative newcomer.
It Shoulda Been You has the distinction of dealing in two generations of stereotypes. This is something of an accomplishment. But it is an accomplishment that undermines even this accomplished cast.
It Soulda Been You is at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47 Street.