Theater Review: IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU (Musical Theatre Guild at the Alex Theatre in Glendale)

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by Barry Creyton on February 18, 2020

in Theater-Los Angeles

YOU SHOULDA BEEN THERE

Happy ever after is the stuff of fairy tales – yet, happy ever after is how we in the audience left the Alex Theatre on Sunday night. The show was It Shoulda Been You which enjoyed a respectable if modest run on Broadway in 2015.

The New York critics, perhaps unused to going to a theatre for the mere pleasure of having a good time, offered mixed reviews. While performances and direction were rightly appreciated, the book and music, many thought, were overly familiar, and therefore deserving of faint praise. I’m here to disagree. In an era where plots are dark, where classic musicals are “re-imagined”, and where new musicals are through-sung in deadly recitative, familiarity – far from contempt – inspires love, respect, and in this case, a great deal of laughter, some of the belly variety.

The comedy arising from a Jewish family marrying into a gentile family has been seen before – Abie’s Irish Rose did it first –  but seldom is this premise tied into such a neat bundle as in It Shoulda Been You. The book by Brian Hargrove is so crammed with laugh-out-loud gems, it could work as a standalone play. The plot is simple: Two opposing families gather for the wedding of Jewish Rebecca  to Gentile George – Ashley Fox Lynton and Zachary Ford, perfectly cast as the Hallmark card couple. The bride’s overweight sister Jenny, a powerfully sung and moving Julie Garnyé, laments being deemed unmarriable by her controlling mother. The respective mothers – great comedy performances by Eileen Barnett and Barbara Carlton Heart – battle over their perceptions of each offspring’s other, aided by sometimes bothered and bewildered spouses, the would-be “man’s man” father, Bryan Chesters, and the under-the-thumb Anthony Gruppuso: “Your mother and I had words – but I didn’t get to use any of mine.”

An accessible score by Barbara Anselmi provides some standouts like Julie Garnyé’s “Jenny’s Blues”, Barbara Carlton Heart’s hilariously inebriated “Where Did I Go Wrong?” as she wishes her soon-to-be-wed son had been gay, the acid fun of Eileen Barnett’s “Nice”, as she tries oh so hard to live up to that word, or her dictate to her daughter’s former beau in the contrapuntally chaotic title number, “It Shoulda Been You”.

Throw into the mix Rebecca’s former beau, a charismatic Travis Leland, give him a spectacular entrance, and a mission to kill the marriage before either party can say “I do”, and add the best man and matron of honor, both played with charm and an edge which ultimately turns the plot (Adam Lendemon and Helen Jane Planchet), and Uncle Morty, happily dotty as played by Thomas W. Ashworth:

BRIAN (in search of the missing bride): Have you seen Rebecca?
UNCLE MORTY: I loved it!

The wedding planners Pamela Hamill and the always assured Jason Graae have seen it all before. Or so they think. Jason’s song delivery and his cool observations are beautifully placed, as ever, and as a bonus, we’re treated to a few bars of his oboe virtuosity.

The plot twist, when it comes, is the biggest laugh, and the biggest surprise in this treat-filled piece. As Jason’s deadpan Albert says: “I didn’t see that coming.”

Now in its 24th season, The Musical Theatre Guild is justly celebrated for semi-staged readings of rare or forgotten Broadway musicals. Equity lays down some pretty stringent rules for such performances: Rehearsals must not exceed 25 hours, and scripts must be held by actors at all times. This bare-bones production of It Shoulda Been You made a nonsense of these restrictions. As directed by original Broadway cast member Josh Grisetti, the production was so slick, its comedy so well played by all, it might’ve been rehearsed for a month and played out of town prior to the one-off at the Alex. The music, only three pieces led by Dan Redfeld was somehow quite right for this “chamber” piece.

Albert’s summing up of the action as he watches sanity unravel is a perfect logline for this thoroughly enjoyable musical: “I’m sure glad I didn’t call in sick today.”

photos by Alan Weston

It Shoulda Been You
Musical Theatre Guild
Alex Theatre | 216 Brand Blvd. in Glendale
played Sunday, February 16, 2019
for future events, call 818.243.2539 or visit MTG

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Tina H Janzen February 18, 2020 at 7:24 pm

If the musical is anywhere near as entertaining and thoughtful as this review, I’m sure it is wonderful!

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