Opening Nights: It Shoulda Been You

Dowdy dialogue straight out of the playwright's primer.

This "new" musical comedy has been around since 2009, and it was most recently staged in New Jersey under the direction of Frasier's David Hyde Pierce. Maybe his fusty touch would've worked with its antiquated plot—a shrewish Jewish mother battling her boozy shiksa nemesis for control of their children's interfaith wedding, with a songbook that might've sounded fresh to Mamie Eisenhower.

It seems that It Shoulda Been You is little more than a vanity project, since the book and lyrics were penned by Pierce's husband, television writer Brian Hargrove. (Barbara Anselmi composed the music; Jon Kretzu directs.) As a story about a Jewish girl (Mara Solar) marrying a Catholic boy (Timothy Wilson), it's dowdy in song and dialogue, even though the setting is contemporary. Once the major plot turn unfolds, however, the musical wobbles dreidel-like in different but entirely predictable directions.

Will the plus-sized girl with the heart of gold (Kat Ramsburg) find love at her sister's wedding? Will that nice Jewish boy (Joshua Carter), who once dated the bride, be able to stop their wedding in time? What kinds of sexual hanky-panky will take place when the brassy mothers-in law (Leslie Law and Jayne Muirhead) aren't looking? Such questions, and their answers, are straight out of the playwright's primer. The stick-figure characters and anachronistic melodies are treated strictly camp- and irony-free.

If there's fun to be had here, it's in watching a serviceable cast try to bat around the medicine-ball songs as if they're balloons. Several times, the performers push past their range in the big solo spots, revealing limitations that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. But at least one occasion—after the show's big reveal at the end of Act I, the wedding couple gets a serenade from the best man (Aaron Finley) and maid of honor (Diana Huey)—suggests the mischief and mayhem the show might've pursued.

The sets are fine and the tech work seamless, but the orchestra wades through Doug Besterman's orchestrations like a preteen sifting through his grandma's bloomers in a halfhearted search for anything exciting. As someone who loves show tunes, I had a whole lot more fun last week watching TV's Smash. That show's also set in the present day—but, unlike It Shoulda Been You, it looks back to the postwar years more knowingly, rather than simply trying to recreate the pleasures of the past.

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