May 12, 2019 | Dr. Jeff List
A theatre wedding never goes as planned. Never. Something always shakes things up. Always. The question is “who,” “what,” and “how.” I’m not going to give much away in this review because Pit & Balcony’s production of It Shoulda Been You, with book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove and music and concept by Barbara Anselmi, gives audience members everything they need for a good night at the theatre. Catchy musical numbers. Endearing characters. A compelling story. And a lot of laughs.
It Shoulda Been You tells the tale of the wedding between Brian Howard and Rebecca Steinberg, but the play focuses on Rebecca’s sister Jenny and her efforts to keep the wedding on track. This is Jenny’s show: if the dress has a smudge, Jenny fixes it; if Rebecca’s ex, Marty, shows up to stop the nuptials, Jenny cuts him off. Jenny fights all the chaos knowing the whole time that she is the “other” sister.
Danessa Hellus is a delight as the dutiful sister Jenny. She carries much of the action of the play and never misses a beat. She reveals how Jenny puts aside her own impulses, dreams, and desires for the sake of the wedding, even as her mother, Judy, insults her and Marty insists on speaking with the bride. When Jenny does reach a breaking point and puts her own desires first, Hellus smartly shows audience members that Jenny is coming into her own without coming across as selfish. “Jenny’s Blues” is a highlight of the show.
The character of Judy Steinberg occasionally falls into the stereotype of the overbearing Jewish mother, but Erin Whitfield never feels stale or trite. Whitfield eschews type to create a loving, if occasionally misguided, mother. Whitfield is funny, showing excellent timing. She shines during “Nice” playing opposite soon-to-be in-law Georgette Howard, played smartly by Barbie Carr. Carr plays the drinking, and then drunk, Georgette without going too far into sloppy drunk. “Where Did I Go Wrong?” gives wonderful insight into Georgette and makes her a complete person.
Jonah Conner has some wonderful moments that show his charming side. Conner shines in his scenes with his father George, played by Shawn Finney. “Back In The Day,”smartly choreographed by Allie Williams, shows the closeness between Brian and George. Conner is able to show a different side of Brian away from his parents, especially in the touching interactions with his best man Greg Madison, played by Aidan Montgomery.
Director Todd Thomas does an excellent job telling a complicated story. The laughs and the songs never come at the expense of the story. The show never lags by keeping strong pacing. The blocking seems intuitive rather than contrived and unmotivated with rare exception. Thomas used the full acting space. He also was able to create moments that audience members will walk away remembering fondly. I still smile thinking about Annie Sheps, played by Danielle Shoeny, reacting to Georgette and Judy at the salon. Much credit goes to Ryan Sequin as musical director for the fun and lively evening. For the most part, actors kept their range and sang with clarity while keeping character.
The set is an impressive construction. No less than ten entrances on the ground floor and a fully functional second floor. Ken Duby as set coordinator and Len Callard, Fred Housner, Terry Laux, George Snyder, and Dan Wegner as set builders did an admirable job in the scope of their undertaking. The lighting design of Bailey Banks was functional and effectively guided focus for audience members. L’Oreal Hartwell as sound designer put together a solid design with only a couple “hiccups.” Costume designer Mary Boone put some strong looks on stage. The mothers had character-appropriate garb and the wedding looks are stunning.
It Shoulda Been You makes for a fun evening. In the chaos, audience members get to see likeable characters sing enjoyable songs while telling an interesting story.