Composer Barbara Anselmi and playwright and lyricist Brian Hargrove’s 2015 Broadway musical It Shoulda Been You, currently playing at Theatre in the Park in Raleigh, NC, could easily have been entitled “Murphey’s Law Concerning Weddings,” because if anything could go wrong, it does.
Take a Jewish bride, her older sister (who is unhappy about being single), and their overbearing mother; add an Irish-Catholic groom, his possessive mother, and his prenup-bearing father; and stir in a goofy groomsman, a perky co-maid-of-honor, a wedding planner who considers himself a “Nuptial Houdini” and his helpers (one of whom is having self-image problems), a hard-of-hearing uncle, and an energetic sex-starved cougar aunt. As the mixture is about to gel, toss in the bride’s “ex,” who is convinced that the wedding must be stopped. Then prepare for total mayhem.
We will have to confess that the show’s first 10 minutes seemed to promise nothing more than a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy, complete with “formulae” and “(stereo-)types.” As we prepared ourselves to be but moderately entertained, we found ourselves delving deeply for the language of a “lukewarm review.” However, as this play’s plot unfolds, expectations are turned on their heads, and the “egg” that we feared was being laid hatched to produce the lively, the unexpected, the interesting, the intriguing, and the just-plain-funny. Here we offer you a challenge: If you accurately predict this show’s outcome, consider yourself a genius.
The action takes place in an upscale hotel on the day of the wedding of Rebecca (a loveably sweet Mackie Raymond) and (the also sweet but slightly goofy) Brian (Tyler Graeper). The play opens with a solo by Rebecca’s sister Jenny (Elizabeth Hankla, who makes it easy to root for her character). Enter Judy — (Jewish) mother of the bride — (Alison Lawrence), and the first bits of fur start to fly. And fur will fly repeatedly.
Indeed, it is Alison Lawrence and Sandi Sullivan (as Georgette, mother-of-the-groom) who provide the highest highlights of the show. Shakespeare’s Hamlet explains a few deaths, saying:
‘Tis dangerous when the baser nature comes
Between the pass and fell incensèd points
Of mighty opposites (Hamlet 5.2.60-62)
In multiple scenes, Alison Lawrence and Sandi Sullivan prove that “mighty opposites” can also be a source of wry smiles and boisterous laughter. And there is a bonus: these two local divas perform a duet that is well worth the price of admission.
Speaking of highlights, we found that the duet “Who,” performed by Marty (Greg Toft) and Jenny (Elizabeth Hankla) showed the best chemistry of the evening. And the soft-shoe number, “Back in the Day,” performed by Brian (Tyler Graeper) and his father George (Bobby Kaufman), contained the most pleasing of Bradley Barefoot’s choreography.
Director Jackson Cooper has orchestrated fluid scene-to-scene flow, taking advantage of the easily morphed set designed by technical director Nathaniel Conti. Jackson has choreographed a laugh-fest sequence, involving the rapid opening and closing of doors that is reminiscent of (the late 1960s TV show) Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In. And we were impressed by the method chosen for delivery of hand-held microphones for a few of the solos.
Costumes (designed by Denise Schumaker) are meticulously appropriate, even to the point of the coordinated colors of the wedding party. Perhaps, however, we should give credit for the wedding clothing to a character in the show — the wedding planner Albert (played fastidiously by Brian Fisher, who milks every drop of the character’s dry wit).
The dialogue in this script is so rife with jewels that we feel compelled to quote a few:
“Nobody wants to dance with a question mark.”
“You’re not a jinx; you’re a failure.”
“I’d hate to miss my son’s first wedding.”
“Thank you for not letting me call in sick today.”
Mother-of-the-bride Judy offers an interesting twist on the term “arranged marriage.” And she delivers the line “let me have my fantasy” at an ironically funny moment.
Judy’s husband Murray (Thomas Porter) deftly keeps a straight face as he reports: “Your mother and I had words, but I didn’t get to use any of mine.”
Musical director Diane Cashwell Petteway and her band are just behind the upstage double-doors, and these doors open wide on occasion to establish the presence of a band in the action of the play.
From the Department of Picky-Picky:
- The set, while realistic and adequate, is not as eye-grabbingly flashy as those to which we have grown accustomed at TIP.
- We felt that the band often played a bit too loud, to the point of burying some of the lyrics.
- There were some glitches in the sound on opening night that we are sure will be addressed during the run.
- Likewise, there are isolated instances in which the (otherwise spot-on) lighting does not match the blocking during musical numbers. (We first noticed this during “Where Did I Go Wrong?”) Once again, subsequent performances should iron these glitches out.
On the whole, It Shoulda Been You at TIP is peppy and funny, and this cast delivers the quirkiness of the characters with aplomb.
SECOND OPINION: June 16th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW Review by Lauren Van Hemert: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-Theatre-in-the-Parks-Funny-IT-SHOULDA-BEEN-YOU-Rides-on-the-Coattails-of-Standout-Comedic-Performances-20180616; June 15th Raleigh, NC Spectrum News Central NC interview with TIP guest director Jackson Cooper, conducted by Caroline Blair: http://spectrumlocalnews.com/nc/triangle-sandhills/in-depth-interview/2018/06/15/in-depth-theatre-in-the-park-s–it-shoulda-been-you—set-to-make-audiences-laugh-through-entertaining-musical-spectrum-news-anchor-caroline-blair#; June 6th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/it-shoulda-been-you/Event?oid=11210641; June 6th Raleigh, NC MIX 101.5/WRAL-FM interview with TIP guest director Jackson Cooper, conducted by Diane Ramsey for her “Scene & Screen” podcast (Episode 22): https://www.wralfm.com/scene-screen/; and June 3rd Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article212217474.html.
Theatre in the Park presents IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU at 7:30 p.m. June 21-23, 3 p.m. June 24, 7:30 p.m. June 29 and 30, and 3 p.m. July 1 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $30 ($24 students, seniors 60+, and active-duty military personnel), except $20 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-831-6058 or https://theatreinthepark.secure.force.com/ticket#details_a0S41000005fstsEAA.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6058 or https://www.theatreinthepark.com/whats-on/group-sales.html.
SHOW: https://www.theatreinthepark.com/whats-on/it-shoulda-been-you.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/457966411290305/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/, https://www.facebook.com/theatreintheparkraleigh, https://twitter.com/TheatreInPark, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_in_the_Park.
NOTE: All shows are wheelchair/walker accessible, and large-print playbills are usually available.
It Shoulda Been You (2011 New Brunswick, NJ and 2015 Broadway musical comedy): https://www.mtishows.com/it-shoulda-been-you (Music Theatre International), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/it-shoulda-been-you-498635 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_Shoulda_Been_You (Wikipedia).
Barbara Anselmi (music): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/barbara-anselmi-498638 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://twitter.com/barbarajanselmi (Twitter page).
Brian Hargrove (book and lyrics): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/brian-hargrove-498637 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0362987/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Hargrove (Wikipedia).
Jackson Cooper (Raleigh, NC director and executive director of Chamber Music Raleigh): http://www.chambermusicraleigh.org/jackson-cooper-executive-director/ (Chamber Music Raleigh bio) and https://www.facebook.com/maestros.left.hand (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.