Occasionally, Broadway audiences miss the target. Such is the case with It Shoulda Been You, a musical that somehow lasted less than five months before slinking off into tours and community theater. Making its debut in the spring of 2015, in the middle of a season chock-full of opulent, imaginative, high profile shows (An American in Paris, Finding Neverland, Fun Home, and a little thing called Hamilton), It Shoulda Been You paled in comparison, with a yawn-inducing premise of a gentile/Jewish wedding and meddling in-laws. But taken out of the context of its more glamorous competitors, It Shoulda Been You shoulda been given more of a chance, or at least made its premiere at a different time and place. Musical Theatre Guild, which thrives on elevating undeservingly obscure shows in a staged reading format, armed its recent production (February 16 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale) of the show with many of its biggest acting guns, resulting in a hugely entertaining performance.
Broadway musicals about weddings are nothing new. Shows such as Mack and Mabel, The Wedding Singer, and Brigadoon all focus on nuptials, while others, including Fiddler on the Roof and The Sound of Music have weddings as part of the storyline. What starts as a typical story about mismatched, battling prospective in-laws gets turned on its ear when it is revealed that the wedding is a sham and that both bride and groom are in love with other people, both of whom are not of the opposite sex.
Book writer and lyricist Brian Hargrove and original star Josh Grisetti (who played Marty) were in attendance at the Alex as the story opens, as Rebecca Steinberg (Ashley Fox Linton), who is Jewish, is preparing for her wedding to Brian Howard (Zachary Ford) who is so white-bread-Catholic, he “sweats mayonnaise.” Their respective mothers are textbook tempests-in-teapots, nagging, manipulative, and outrageously funny.
Eileen Barnett plays Rebecca’s mother Judy, a meddling mom if there ever was one, whose complaints are prefaced by comments such as “Nothing bothers me…unless it’s upsetting.” Judy’s talons come out in her uproarious song, “Nice,” a brilliantly written number consisting of a laundry list of back-handed compliments. Her equally controlling counterpart, Georgette (Barbara Carlton Heart) gets her own chance to snap back with “Where Did I Go Wrong?” Imagine a war of words between Ida Morgenstern (Rhoda) and June Cleaver (Leave It to Beaver) and you kind of get the picture.
Nothing is wasted in the bright and lively score, co-written by Hargrove and Barbara Anselmi. Smart and funny, the songs fit perfectly into the scenario, furthering the story and familiarizing us with the characters as if the lyrics were spoken dialog. Judy and Georgette’s husbands are played, respectively, by Anthony Gruppuso and Bryan Chesters. Gruppuso, an actor who is built like a fireplug, delivers one of the show’s many great one-liners as Murray Steinberg: “Your mother and I had words but I didn’t get to use any of mine.” Chesters plays George Howard, who can’t resist a soft shoe which he shares with his son (“Back in the Day”) as he awkwardly tries to nurture a man-to-man relationship with his son, something he never had with his own father.
The red herrings in the show’s story are Marty Kaufman (Travis Leland), Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend, who is threatening to disrupt the wedding, and Rebecca’s less-than-glamorous older sister Jenny, played by the fabulous Julie Garnyé, whose superb singing voice dominates the cast in such show-stopping songs as “Beautiful” and “Jenny’s Blues,” the latter of which brought down the house. “Jenny’s Blues” is the show’s version of “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy, a soul-baring soliloquy during which the neglected older sister declares that she is done with being mocked and told by her mother how ordinary she is.
Serving as a kind of Greek chorus is the fabulous Jason Graae as Albert, the all-knowing wedding planner, who, like Albert Pujols, swats his frequent one-liners out of the ballpark, utilizing perfect timing in each instance.
The payoff comes when Rebecca and Brian simultaneously lurch from out of the closet and pledge their devotion to their respective true loves: Annie (Helen Jane Planchet) and Greg (Adam Lendermon). The resulting tumult after their mutual announcement makes the getting there half the fun.
Music director/pianist Dan Redfield leads a trio consisting of bassist Steve Dress and percussionist Albie Berk as the on-stage musical ensemble. As usual, the cast prepared the show with only 25 hours of rehearsal. MTG’s rotating stock cast of superb actors and singers continues to enliven the Los Angeles theatre scene with its continued pledge to present works that other theaters would not dream to schedule. It’s well worth a trip to Glendale to see them.