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Monday, 21 August 2017 11:02

Review: ‘It Shoulda Been You’ is the fantastic time weddings are meant to be

Written by  Marin Heinritz
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Who among us doesn’t love a good summer wedding? Sweating in your best clothes to celebrate the holier-than-thou aggrandizement of heteronormativity, complete with behind-the-scenes jealousies tearing families apart, shelling out for gifts you didn’t really want to give, eating overpriced catered food and getting blisters in stiff shoes dancing to bad music.

Skip all that at the end of this summer and enjoy the drama onstage, where it belongs, with the delicious satire of Mason Street Warehouse’s “It Shoulda Been You,” the final production in the theater’s excellent 15th anniversary season.

This screwball comedy takes place on the day of the Steinberg-Howard wedding in the opulent St. George Hotel, where the sister of the bride and maid of honor — always a bridesmaid, never a bride — works in conjunction with the fabulous wedding planner to fix nearly every possible anticipated disaster and keep her overbearing and controlling Jewish mother (also of the bride) in check. The Jewish mother’s emasculated husband just tries to stay out of the way as she spars with the spiteful, passive-aggressive, outwardly conservative Christian mother of the groom, who resents having to share her son with another woman and whose husband longs for a prenup as well as the good old days when “a man knew where he stood.” There’s also the bride’s mensch of an ex who catches wind of the wedding and shows up uninvited to stop the proceedings, the perpetually drunk and lascivious cougar aunt, the wedding party members and event staff looking for the next hookup, and, well, the bride and groom, around whom the chaos elegantly swirls, who are keeping more than one secret that could further rock the whole sinking ship.

There are 13 entrances and exits for the 15 characters, and while the pace of these whirlwind situations lend themselves to a slamming-doors farce, Kurt Stamm directs this madcap comedy so that it glides beautifully and seemingly effortlessly, much like the doors on stage. The pacing is quick, but never feels rushed or harried. This production moves beyond the show’s seeming stereotypes and sitcom material with genuinely surprising plot twists and the many ways Stamm maximizes the satire and sass with an astoundingly talented cast and crew, and infinite small but impactful choices, many of them physical, so that no moment is lost and no role tossed off.

Every character is enormous and distinct, though it’s the way the entire ensemble works together, like an exquisite corps de ballet, to move the very smart and funny book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove practically beyond their potential. In the titular song, the Steinbergs complain to the ex-boyfriend that the fiance is “so white bread he sweats mayonnaise” as they swarm and surround him, illustrating the terrifying paradox of belonging to them. Such nuanced choices abound, and have a powerful effect.

Though there’s hardly even one big, flashy, extended dance number, Stamm’s choreography is fun, surprising and perfectly executed; and perhaps even more notably, every bit of his graceful blocking turns all the action onstage into a dance.

This helps the impressive, grand set by Jeremy Barnett come alive. With two levels, several sets of stairs, and all those doors, the monolithic beauty doesn’t move (except for a pop-out mini bar and bathroom stalls), but the actors create various places and spaces on stage (a hair salon, bathroom, hotel room interior, etc.) with a few set pieces and Jennifer Kules’s colorful and dynamic lighting design, which makes especially excellent use of spotlights to heighten the comedy of the dramatic shifts into song and dance.

The music, though not terribly distinctive in the realm of contemporary pop musicals, is both fun and funny, and Music Director Jamie Reed and her live orchestra make the most of it, creating nice build within each number and throughout the show.

The actors, too, do wonderful things with the music, the choreography, and the characters. Katie Finan is a beautiful and sympathetic Jenny, the maid of honor/sister of the bride. Sue Cella and Beth Glover are truly grande dames as the mothers (whom it’s really all about, of course), each impassioned in the ways of her own cultural paradigm and expressed through impeccable timing and hilarious facial expressions.

David R. Gordon is a charming Marty and lovely singer, and David Spencer’s Albert — the wedding planner who is “Martha Stewart crossed with Dumbledore” — eschews caricature for a more subtle characterization that gives him terrific verisimilitude. Jeff Meyer and Natalie Renee are a fabulous duo as best man and co-maid of honor, and their hilarious duet “Love You Till the Day” is but the most ostentatious illustration of how they make secondary characters so much more than what was scripted. Similarly, Ellie Frances and David Duiven create so much from so little with their roles as hotel/wedding staff.

There’s simply not a weak link in this entire production. And while David Hyde Pierce’s 2015 Broadway production received mixed (at best) reviews, this show is a delightful fit for Mason Street Warehouse and its audiences. For wedding lovers and haters alike, this contemporary farce is a crowd pleaser through which we can experience the drama without regret.

It Shoulda Been You
Mason Street Warehouse
August 18-Sept. 3

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