Review: ‘It Shoulda Been You’ is full of adept acting, farcical fun

It’s clear from the first moments of the opening number, “I Never Wanted This,” the Michigan premiere of Broadway’s 2015 musical wedding farce It Shoulda Been You at Farmers Alley Theatre is atypical. A Rubenesque young woman dressed in a bathrobe and veil reveals in song that she’s Jewish, “32ish,” and never wanted to get married. “All of this for a steady lay?” she sings, presumably regarding the drama of her wedding day.

But it’s her “perfect” sister who’s getting married to a Catholic, and the wildly dramatic cast of characters, many of whom embody stereotypes, feel a certain kind of way about it. There’s the overbearing Jewish mother of the bride and her henpecked husband; the passive-aggressive lush of a mother of the groom who resents having to share her son with another woman, and her cold and stoic husband; the perpetually drunk cougar aunt; the mensch of an ex-boyfriend who tries to stop the wedding; and the flamboyant and fabulous wedding planner who delivers on desires before they’ve even been uttered and enjoys nothing more than the spectacular drama that inevitably unfolds on any given wedding day.

Yet the book and lyrics of Brian Hargrove that create this particular wedding day presents delicious and wildly unpredictable twists and turns (befitting an opening on Kalamazoo Pride weekend) that make this light-hearted slamming doors farce perfect contemporary summer wedding-season fare.

Director Kathy Mulay pulls together a tremendous cast and crew for a fun, fast-paced show that never feels static or stale though the set changes are minimal. And though the sweet, upbeat music by Barbara Anselmi isn’t terribly interesting overall, Music Director Catherine A. Walker makes the most of the talented singers and seven-piece orchestra to create a full, rich sound.

Leads Whitney Weiner as a strong, pleasant big sister Jenny, and Missy Karle as bride Rebecca, have lovely voices and good chemistry together; Karle has a beautiful vibrato in “A Little Bit Less Than” and Weiner expresses real soulfulness in “Jenny’s Blues.”

As fey wedding planner Albert, Ben Zylman appears to be having almost as much fun prancing and sing-songing his lines with pursed lips as the audience has watching him. He’s the delightful glue that holds the big day together.

And yet this show, as is so often the case with weddings, ultimately belongs to the mothers. Zoe Vonder Haar has amazing timing and phrasing, as well as a wonderfully weathered voice. Her mother-of-the-bride Judy Steinberg is tremendously funny and sassy and never entirely slips into caricature. It’s a wonderful role that she absolutely maximizes. Likewise, Laurie Carter Rose plays a dry, deadpan Georgette Howard, the mother of the groom who claims “What doesn’t kill you makes you drink,” with gusto.

All the other actors, too, beautifully fulfill the promise of this goofy cast of characters, milking each moment for its natural laugh.

As is her style, Director Mulay is in full command of every detail (including costumes) to bring together a well-oiled machine. Especially impressive here is the actors’ use of space both on and off the proscenium stage of the Little Theatre. In addition to the entrances and exits through the seven doors on stage, the actors use the aisles of the theatre and its downstage doors to create an expansive and inclusive feel.

Justin Thomas’s set doesn’t change much, though Lanford J. Potts’s lights do, and actors move set pieces to delineate new scenes and spaces to create an overall effect that is vivid and lively to the point that this nearly two-hour show without intermission practically flies by.

In her program notes, Mulay references having seen the original Broadway production directed by David Hyde Pierce, and it seems she brought the best of that production to Kalamazoo. The Broadway production received pretty terrible reviews and only had a five-month run, but this show just might be a better fit for this regional theatre. With all the right elements and careful attention to detail, it’s a truly fun night of summer theater.

It Shoulda Been You
Farmers Alley Theatre
June 9-25