I’m uncharacteristically writing about a musical in brief here, for while I’m happy to recommend the new musical It Shoulda Been You (in its world premiere at the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey), I’d be a little less comfortable reviewing it in minute detail, as I was witness to much of its early development, in my capacity as one of the class moderators and members of the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, and I know the authors, composer Barbara Anselmi and librettist/co-lyricist Brian Hargrove perhaps too well to say in public what they’d prefer to hear from me in private. That said, in withholding I’m sure not keeping much to myself.
For the principal and important news is that the musical—part farce, part comedy of manners, about a wedding and the two families involved—is very, very funny. Anselmi’s score is very much a general-audience comfort zone thing, but it means to be, and as such it is quite attractive; and the book is written with the skill of a consummate upscale sitcom veteran, which Hargrove, an alumni of Frasier, certainly is. Speaking of Frasier, its co-star, David Hyde Pierce is here making his debut as a director; and if the clean, brisk pacing and economical staging is representative, he may have his new-career plate full very soon. (As for the lyrics: they are always at least at a high level of competence and some much better than that; but they do vary somewhat, as befits a show that features the work of a handful of other lyricists aside from Mr. Hargrove: when Ms. Anselmi originally conceived the show, it was as a revue set in and around a wedding, and a number of her BMI colleagues contributed. When Mr. Hargrove signed on and fashioned an actual plot, the working songs that remained relevant to the story were retained alongside those featuring his new lyrics.)
Finally—comedy may be hard, but it’s really difficult to tank comedy when your cast includes the likes of Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris and Richard Kline to set the bar.
If there’s any quibble I’d mention in a public forum, it’s this. And it may not even be a quibble so much as a noted paradox. The main character in the plot is the sister of the bride, a smart and engaging young woman who, we are told, hasn’t had much luck in the romance department because, “let’s face it,” as her mother would say, she’s hefty. But of course, in a romantic-comedy-cum-farce, this would be the gal you root for most, and she is played by Lisa Howard, who indeed cuts a substantial profile. But it’s a helluva profile just the same. She also happens to be poised, brilliantly talented and drop-dead beautiful, carrying her weight as if it’s no more substantial than helium. And if I may take the extreme liberty of speaking for straight males everywhere, the notion that a woman like the one she plays, the way she plays it, would have a tough time finding a relationship (let alone a date), as opposed to having them wait in line, is merely the pact you make with the authors and the actress to get through the musical with a degree of good sportsmanship. Because in real life, the suspension of disbelief would never hold…
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