Monday, October 10, 2011

theatre review IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU, George Street Playhouse, October 9

I can't recall the last time that the three major New Jersey Theatre companies have all started their seasons with new musical productions that all could ultimately end up on Broadway or at least Off Broadway.  McCarter Theatre opened their season with Ten Cents a Dance, which has been speculated as a possible Roundabout Theatre production this season which was followed by Newsies at Papermill which has a clear shot at opening on Broadway next Spring.

Now comes It Shoulda Been You at the George Street Playhouse.  With an A list comical cast, a plot with some original and unseen twists and turns, a very funny script and a nice score, I can honestly see this doing good business at one of the smaller Broadway houses.

Led by the comic duo of Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris and directed by four time Emmy Winner David Hyde Pierce, It Shoulda Been You tells the story of one day in two family's lives.  It is the wedding day of their children, the bride is Jewish, the groom isn't, the two mothers clearly don't get along and then there is the bride's former boyfriend who just found out about the wedding and shows up to possibly derail the whole event.

Kline, Daly, Harris and McGillin
 Now while that plot seems like something you might have seen many times before, let me just say that It Shoulda Been You throws in plenty of twists, a couple of which you clearly don't see coming and there is plenty of warmth and love behind the comedy.  Those elements elevate it to make it more than just your typical wedding day comedy.

Lisa Howard is the older, heavier and less pretty of Daly's two daughters.  Of course it isn't her wedding day but her younger and prettier sister's.  Howard is the star of this production and gets the most to do and she is more than capable of handling the duties.  She has a great voice and gets some nice songs to sing. It is nice to see Howard, who had a decent size part in the original Broadway cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, taking center stage here and showing she is more than capable of starring in a musical.

Daly and Harris are the two mothers and they are simply perfect.  Daly rings every possible bit of angst and guilt out of the Jewish mother character and she delivers the comical lines spot on.  She also gets a couple of nice songs and her voice is warm and clear, even better than when we saw her in cabaret last Spring.  She also looks fantastic.  Harris is pure comical genius.  Her face, voice, body language and a bottle of gin combine to deliver a whirling dervish of a character.  Like Daly, she also gets some nice songs to sing and delivers them perfectly.

Hibbert, Howard, Duren, Hershberg, Holbrook and Hydzik
David Josefsberg is the ex boyfriend of the bride.  Like Howard, it is nice to see Josefsberg get a big part to play after seeing him in the original ensemble casts of Altar Boyz Off Broadway, in a small part in The Wedding Singer on Broadway and in the ensemble of The Toxic Avenger at George Street a few seasons back.  He has a nice stage presence, a good singing voice and perfectly plays the comic and drama parts of the script required of him.

Edward Hibbert is the wedding planner, and as can be expected he delivers every moment in the high end comic fashion he is known for.  The rest of the ensemble cast include Richard Kline as Daly's husband and Howard McGillin as Harris'.   While they are reduced more to secondary characters, Kline has some great lines to deliver.  It is too bad that McGillin isn't given much to do, as he has the biggest Broadway pedigree of this cast, having starred in the Broadway productions of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Anything Goes, The Secret Garden, She Loves Me, Kiss of the Spider Woman and holding the title of having played the most performances as the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera.  So, the fact that he is only given a few lines in one song to sing solo is one drawback of the evening.  However, if he was given a solo song to sing it might have slowed down the high paced antics of the show.

The bride is Jessica Hershberg and the groom is Matthew Hydzik, with Curtis Holbrook as the best man and Carla Duren as the maid of honor. They all hold their own against the rest of the more seasoned pros in the cast and, with the exception of Hershberg, their characters aren't as well defined as the rest, but they all have some moments to shine, especially in the second act.

The show has a book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove and a score by Barbara Anselmi, with a few songs having lyrics by a couple of other individuals.  They've created a score with plenty of character songs, songs that move the action forward as well as some beautfiul and introspective inner monologue pieces.  There is a simple yet elegant set direction by Anna Louizos that creates various rooms and locations in a 5 star New York hotel and costumes by Willian Ivey Long that include beautiful wedding attire including killer dresses for Daly and Harris.

Hyde Pierce has clearly gotten a lot of his friends together for his musical theatre directing debut, with Harris and Hibbert having starred on Fraiser with him, and Hibbert and choreographer Noah Racey having been in Curtains on Broadway with him.   He moves the evening along at a fast pace, even at some moments approaching farce and is more than capable of directing the cast in both the high end comic scenes as well as the more dramatic ones.  Hyde Pierce introduced the show last night and was in the audience taking notes, so I'm sure there might be some changes made before it officially opens on Friday.  However, with the thunderous audience reaction both during the show, after several of the songs and at the curtain call, I don't think there is much that needs to be tweaked.

While It Shoulda Have Been You might at first appear to have a basic story that has been done many times before, it really is a very modern story with up to date issues.  It also has many laugh out loud lines and scenes and has an extremely gifted cast led by the powerhouse duo of Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris and a truly star making turn for Lisa Howard.  With an effective score that gives everyone plenty to do and beautiful sets and costumes I can't imagine that this show won't have a life after the George Street.  And even with all of those great things going for it what really stands out in this musical is the heart at it's center and that is what makes this into a show that I have to believe could end up in New York City this season.

The show runs through November 6th.

Official George Street Playhouse Site

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