May 11, 2019 | Jessica McFarland
It Shoulda Been You wasn’t the showiest musical when it debuted on Broadway in 2015, so you’re forgiven if you haven’t heard of it. Pit and Balcony is dedicated to delivering fresh and contemporary shows as well as regional debuts, and they should be commended for that. Written by Brian Hargrove and Barbara Anselmi, this delightful little musical is equal parts farce and romantic comedy, paying homage to the classics while maintaining a thoroughly modern edge. It’s a tough line to walk, and it is mostly successful.
The show takes place in one day, in one hotel, starting on the morning Brian Howard (Jonah Connor) and Rebecca Steinberg (Lexie Schultz) are getting married. Rebecca’s older sister Jenny (Danessa Hellus) is running herself ragged trying to make sure the wedding goes as planned, managing her overbearing mother Judy (Erin Whitfield), Brian’s parents (Shawn Finney and Barbie Carr) who would rather see the wedding not happen, and a best man (Aidan Montgomery) and maid of honor (Danielle Schoeny) who are less than helpful. Things get even more complicated with the arrival of Marty (Chad William Baker), Jenny’s childhood friend and Rebecca’s ex who is determined to stop the nuptials. All the classic wedding tropes are lampooned here, from religion to sex to sibling rivalry to high functioning alcoholism; at the end of the day, will these couples end up happily wed or wishing that they had made a different choice?
There are certainly high points to this show, the first being vocals, music directed by Ryan Sequin. Danessa Hellus makes Jenny a tough but secretly vulnerable woman that we can identify with; while her acting is good (especially in the heartfelt song “Beautiful,”) her voice is thrilling, with highlights in “Jenny’s Blues” and the lovely duet “Perfect” with Lexie Schultz. Schultz is a young actress to take on such a mature role, but she handles the intricacies surprisingly well and showcases a lovely singing voice. Also excellent is Erin Whitfield, a relative newcomer to the Mid-Michigan scene but hopefully one that we will be seeing more of. While her lovely soprano voice wasn’t always best showcased by the typically alto role, her hilarious acting and excellent timing fleshed out the character and made “Nice” the highlight of my evening. I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention the very enjoyable “Love you ‘Til the Day,” sung with gusto by Montgomery and Schoeny, which was received with whoops and hollers on Friday night.
On the acting side, the scenes were stolen by Barbie Carr as Georgette, the groom’s mother. She tackled every line, showcasing perfect timing and excellent chemistry with her stage husband, played by Shawn Finney. Also excellent was Chad William Baker as wedding crasher Marty, with superb reactions and hilariously dry reads. His surprise entrance starts the show on an unexpected and hilarious foot. Also look for some great dancing from Jonah Connor (Choreographed by Allie Williams) in a very funny scene alongside his stage dad Finney. The rest of the cast is solidly rounded out by Kevin Profitt, Sharrieff Beamon, Greg Allison, and Angie Noah.
Director Todd Thomas had his hands full with this show; being both a farce and a classic style musical requires a very deft hand to stop the show from sliding into a cartoon or becoming a bore. Thomas succeeds in making a funny and beautiful sounding show, but I did find that it was at the expense of characterization. In a show where most of the characters are related or best friends, I didn’t feel a lot of backstory there. The first song plops you into the story without a lot of exposition, so the actors needed more nonverbal interactions to convey their relationships, particularly in musical numbers. Romantic scenes especially seemed stiff and abrupt. The band, also directed by Sequin, sounded lovely, but there were some delays and missteps when it came to timing with the actors. There were some strange choices when it came to crew: they were in costume as if they were part of the hotel staff/storyline, but occasionally actors Allison and Noah would be striking or moving furniture as doubled up characters. There were also a couple of times that crew members came out in full light to strike set pieces and once interrupted a particularly poignant scene (which did not seem accidental).
The set, coordinated by Ken Duby, is large and sturdy, but the decoration left something to be desired. The walls were bare with a light paint job and without crown molding, columns, practical lighting, or even “hotel artwork.” It didn’t feel like a fully realized space. The biggest disappointment for me were the light cues. The design by Bailey Banks was attractive (especially in “Nice”), but the cues were called incorrectly fairly frequently leaving actors in the dark or incorrectly lit. Costumes were by Mary Boone, props were by Dominic Pnacek, and sound was by L’Oreal Hartwell.
Despite these missed opportunities, It Shoulda Been You is a delight. The fearless vocal performances, excellent comic timing, and fast-paced, energetic direction make this a show you shouldn’t miss! A modern take on a classic musical, this is the kind of show that will appeal to the young and the young at heart, and could win over your friends and family that aren’t quite sold on musical theatre. Although it may not have the big name to draw you in, you should give this show a chance; you won’t regret it!