The Village Theatre’s It Shoulda Been You Coulda Been More
The Village Theatre’s new musical, It Shoulda Been You, tells the story of the wedding of a nice Jewish girl to a nice, sweater-tied-around-the neck Catholic boy, and their families who don’t want them to get married. (Tickets available now through April 22 at the Gaudette Theatre in Issaquah and April 27–May 20 at the Everett Performing Arts Center.) While the production is enjoyable and has good musical moments and performances, it can’t quite escape the stereotype gravity that surrounds it. Oy.
In the program’s authors’ notes, Brian Hargrove (book and lyrics) and Barbara Anselmi (composer) state that this is a story that only seems at first glance seems to be about clichéd characters in a clichéd situation. But though there is developing complexity in the story (and somewhat in the character development), it never loses its cliché veneer. Then again, maybe the Seattle liberal in me can’t turn down my PC radar far enough just to relax and enjoy it for what it is.
At the heart of the production is Leslie Law, who plays the bride’s mother, Judy Steinberg, with gusto. In the Broadway version, she’d be played by Linda Lavin, Patti LuPone, Tyne Daly, or anyone else who has played Mama Rose in Gypsy. Law’s Judy is loud, demanding, praising of her skinny daughter, and critical of her not-so-skinny one. While Law manages to have the audience on Judy’s side even while she’s berating her daughter, the groom’s mother, her husband, or her daughter’s maid of honor, it’s hard to see Judy, as written, as anything other than someone’s idea of the “typical Jewish mother” stereotype. And yes, I know there is a longstanding relationship between stereotype and comedy, it just seems like this was a missed opportunity to add more depth to the character.
Equally derivative is the groom’s mother, Georgette, played by Jayne Muirhead. Drunk from the first moment we see her, she’s all St. John and Bellevue hair. In the Broadway version, she would be played by the amazingly talented Christine Baranski from The Good Wife. Her best moment is a funny and somewhat poignant song about her blatant attempt to ensure that she is always the center of her son’s attention and affection. In “Where Did I Go Wrong?” she sings about all she did to keep him, going so far as to try to turn her son gay by taking him to musicals as a boy. Anecdotal evidence might support that methodology, but still, that’s a bit much.
The appearance of the bride’s ex-boyfriend Marty on the wedding day gives us the title song and the best number in the show, “It Shoulda Been You.” Beloved by the bride’s family, Marty comes in to stop the wedding. They tell him it should be him their daughter is marrying, not the Gentile who “speaks Yiddish like he learned it from a nun.” Those of us who have been the family favorite but didn’t get the girl (or boy) can all relate.
The audience sees the show through the eyes of the bride’s sister Jenny, played by Kat Ramsburg. Ramsburg has a big, clear, expressive voice that takes her from a Disney princess-like “I Never Wanted This” to the bluesy, ballsy “Jenny’s Blues,” that is her “When You’re Good to Mama” moment. She is perfectly cast for the sister who plans the wedding but is doubtful of her chance to have her own.
It Shoulda Been You is a still a new work in development, so there is still opportunity to turn down the “oy”s to a more respectable level before it moves on to other theatres, as it will likely do. This show does tackle some tricky, contemporary themes that would, in my view, be more impactful if the characters were a bit more real.