As this steamy spring melts into a sweltering summer, Actors’ Playhouse is inviting theater lovers to a wedding – a big, fat Jewish-WASP wedding, otherwise known as the Broadway musical “It Shoulda Been You.”
Though the show seemingly takes place in the present, the piece by book writer-lyricist Brian Hargrove and composer Barbara Anselmi is an old-fashioned, stereotype-filled throwback.
About halfway through, a welcome plot twist makes the musical far more interesting (if no less stereotype-dependent), which is a good thing. Up to that point, “It Shoulda Been You” plays like a lesser version of a Neil Simon farce set to music. The comedy, farcical elements and varied musical numbers are all squarely in director David Arisco’s wheelhouse, and though his staging is in service of a minor work that lasted less than six months on Broadway, he knows how to sell even flawed material.
Set in a sleek, fancy hotel and overflowing with wedding-day jitters, “It Shoulda Been You” centers on the culture clash between the Jewish family of bride Rebecca Steinberg (Erica Lustig) and the WASP parents of groom Brian Howard (Taylor Hilt Mitchell).
Rebecca – Becca – is extremely nervous about her nuptials, though her elder, still single and more zaftig sister Jenny (Cindy Pearce) does her best to keep her sister and the ceremony on track. Jenny also has to contend with their demanding mother Judy (Margot Moreland), who was probably a drill sergeant in a previous life. Between Judy’s frequent digs at her older daughter’s weight and control-freak approach to every last detail, Jenny is not having a good day.
Jenny does have an ally in Albert (Conor Walton), the quintessential gay wedding planner. The beautifully groomed Albert specializes in keeping his cool while anticipating (and solving) every problem, keeping his ears open to wedding-party drama, and keeping both arms bent at the elbow, the better to sashay his way around the hotel. And that’s one of the best, though hardly the only, illustrations of Hargrove and Anselmi’s penchant for trading in stereotypes.
Groom Brian displays a curious penchant for chatting up Becca before the ceremony, ignoring the bad-luck prohibition on seeing the bride before she walks down the aisle. Best man Greg Madison (Alexander Zenoz) and co-maid of honor Annie Shepard (Gabrielle Graham) appear to be up to some mischief and overly involved in wedding day decisions. Marty Kaufman (Tim Dolan), Becca’s old beau, shows up to try to stop the wedding – and no, that isn’t the plot twist.
Also on hand are Becca’s dad Murray (Oscar Cheda), who still wishes Marty were the groom-to-be; Brian’s uptight dad George (Mark A. Harmon), who demands that his son get Becca to sign a wedding-day prenup; Brian’s gin-swilling mom Georgette (Marcia McClain), a stinging WASP who can’t abide the idea of losing her son to another woman; Becca’s already-drunk Uncle Morty (Michael H. Small); and her coyote of an aunt Sheila (Jeni Hacker), a troublemaker par excellence.
Running under two hours without an intermission, Actors’ “It Shoulda Been You” boasts a cast with powerful voices and deft comic timing. For instance, when Moreland’s Judy observes of her eldest, “Why is she talking like a big black woman?,” Pearce’s Jenny then breaks into “Jenny’s Blues,” the sort of song Bessie Smith might have sung. Pearce also makes gorgeous work of “Beautiful,” while Moreland sinks her teeth into the ironically titled “Nice” and later delivers a moving version of the motherly advice number “What They Never Tell You.”
Musical director David Nagy leads a strong six-piece band, and performer Hacker doubles as choreographer (and, like Small, as a hotel employee). Tim Bennett’s hotel set provides multi-level playing areas as well as the requisite doors for slamming. Costume designer Ellis Tillman outfits the Steinberg family and the wedding party in deep magenta, the Howards in glowing gold, and more than one bride in gorgeous gowns. Sound designer Shaun Mitchell and lighting designer Eric Nelson make sure the show’s shenanigans are clearly heard and seen.
Just how involving those shenanigans are will depend on your taste in musicals. The initially tepid audience reaction obviously deepens after the plot twist. And Jenny’s journey gradually becomes compelling. But if stereotype-heavy fluff, no matter how well sung or acted, isn’t your thing, this is one wedding you may want to skip.
‘It Shoulda Been You,’ Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday (additional matinee 2 p.m.; May 24 through June 11. Cost:$64 Friday-Saturday, $57 other performances (10 percent senior discount Wednesday-Thursday, $15 student rush tickets 15 minutes before curtain, based on availability). Information: 305-444-9293 or www.actorsplayhouse.org.
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