Written by Barbara Anselmi and Brian Hargrove, It Shoulda Been You is a romantic, musical comedy that delights in confounding expectations. It begins on a wedding day. But it’s not Rebecca’s (the bride) story, it’s her older sister, Jenny’s. Judy Steinberg, the mother, is frantic and fussing over every detail, though she and her husband, Murray, are rooting as much for Becky’s former flame, Marty, as her fiance, Brian Howard. Brian’s parents aren’t exactly crazy about the match, either, especially Brian’s mother, Georgette. She has one of the funniest solos (Where Did I Go Wrong?) in which she confides trying everything to turn Brian gay, and be the only “girl” in his life. It Shoulda Been You flaunts the line between sensitivity and cynicism (it could easily have been titled Marriage Bites) but manages a good-natured mix of warmth and irony, finding humor in life’s disappointments without diving into despair.
Shoulda opens with a wry, introspective number by Jenny, “I Never Wanted This” leading us to believe she’s the bride. It’s soon established that while mother Judy is busy coordinating the event, she’s never too busy to make Jenny feel like a failure. Being the older sister, Jenny should have been married first. From there, the complications just keep piling on: a feud between the future mothers-in-law, a stalking ex-boyfriend, a last-minute prenup, to name just a few. Anselmi and Hargrove have worked up a successful formula, playing on the tension between what traditional marriage is supposed to be, and the problems that arise when actual life interferes.
Digs are taken from the culture clash when a Gentile marries a Jewish girl (all in good fun) and of course, that only seems to be the least of the headaches to come. Jenny wistfully bemoans feeling excluded when she’s the only one single, but by the end, matrimony doesn’t look all that alluring. The mothers are self-indulgent, Brian’s dad is hostile (though supposedly cordial) all the familial ideas we celebrate are diminished. A lot of the more tender emotions are expressed in song, and often the sweetness that breaks through in the midst of our fractured, flawed humanity. Numerous playwrights and composers have held up marriage and heterocentrist coupling to scrutiny (Stephen Sondheim, Neil Simon, David Mamet) and Hargrove and Anselmi do the same in, It Shoulda Been You, spoofing and joshing, pricking the glossy bubble but avoiding the dark side. Some of the plot points are a bit of a reach, but no more so than you might expect.
The cast and orchestra are sublime. This is a demanding script, calling for nuance, versatility and sharp comic skills. The performers are confident and bright, with the chops to understand the crucial need for accurate timing and tone. The dance numbers are clever and sophisticated, most of the punchlines fresh and unexpected. The actors here realize the importance of letting the audience share in the pleasure they take, and that’s exactly what they do.
Uptown Players presents It Shoulda Been You, playing March 24th-April 9th, 2017. Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd, Dallas, Texas 75219. 214-219-2718. uptownplayers.org