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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Delightful It Shoulda Been You
a Perfect Match for Village Theatre

Also see David's reviews of Torso, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and Red

It Shoulda Been You
Kat Ramsburg and Joshua Carter
As a fan of Village Theatre's annual Festival of New Musicals, I've seen great ones (Lizzie Borden), promising ones (Trails, which will be fully mounted in their 2012-2013 season) and a few that needed to go back to the drawing board (The Giver). Landing squarely between great and promising was Brian Hargrove and Barbara Anselmi's joyful and hilarious It Shoulda Been You from the 2010 fest. The show, which was generally well received in a Tyne Daly headed production last year at New Jersey's George Street Playhouse, is an original musical taking place just before and after a big wedding between a Jewish girl and a gentile lad, but this is no Abie's Irish Rose rehash set to music. A much bigger (and not to be spoilered here) issue is at the core of the story, and also the central character in what is really an ensemble show, is the bride's plump but passionate elder sister. If not well cast, this role could make or break the show. At the Village, she makes it, boy does she, but more on that later.

The families in the mix are the Steinbergs and the Howards. Mama Judy Steinberg is every Jewish mother joke you've ever heard rolled into one person, while her hubby Murray is more the strong, silent, heart-on-his-sleeve type. Daughter Rebecca is the uptight bride, her sister Jenny is the glue holding everything as together as can be, and for good measure there are Judy's obnoxious, trouble-making sister Sheila and older than springtime Uncle Morty. On groom Brian's side there are his ice-queen, cocktail-toting mother Georgette and his wealthy, distant father George. Factor in a dumb-bunny best man, a rather normal (in this company) maid of honor, a wise gay wedding planner and his two unctuous assistants, and Rebecca's ex-fiancé Marty (whose reasons for trying to halt the wedding are less obvious than one might think, given that Hargrove's admittedly laugh-laden script goes for the obvious nine times out of ten). There is a truly happy ending to all the above, attached to the post ceremony ramifications of the big secret coming out and, in fact, this show at its best leaves us happy and smiling as the curtains close.

Lyricist Hargrove and composer Anselmi have created a pleasant score, if not one that offers many tunes you'll be humming as you exit. Too many of them have the annoying modern musical trend of ending without giving the audience a chance to applaud. Audiences want that opportunity, so limiting the tendency to go right back into the book is a good idea, at least sometimes. Nonetheless, director Jon Kretzu delivers a fast-paced frolic of a show with the perfect cast to pull it off. Top honors go to Kat Ramsburg, who not only amuses and touches the heart with equal aplomb, but also vies for the honor of becoming the first non-traditionally cast Effie White in Dreamgirls as she rocks the rafters with the score's best number, "Jenny's Blues." If the show does get a rumored New York production, Ramsburg, a Seattle native now residing in Manhattan, deserves to encore her performance in it. She's that good. Matching her and continuing his streak of great work in recent roles is Joshua Carter as the ex-fiancé who suddenly reveals his yen for Jenny. As for the mamas and the papas, the ladies have the better of it with Leslie Law remaining robustly lovable as Judy Steinberg, soulfully selling her solo "What They Never Tell You," while Jayne Muirhead gives her a run for her money as the groom's mother who would like to keep he son tied to her apron strings, as she hilariously laments in "Where Did I Go Wrong?." As their respective spouses, John Dewar (Murray) and John Patrick Lowrie (George) contrast nicely with their stage wives, and the foursome shine together on another strong musical number, "That's Family."

Dennis Bateman glories in and is glorious in a change of pace role as the wedding planner, while Mara Solar and Tim Wilson, with less to do in the show than you may think, make a charmingly quirky bride and groom. Diana Huey and Aaron Finley steal scenes as the maid of honor and best man, with Finley a particular standout, and the pair bring the house down with gales of laughter, singing a perfect parody of a terrible wedding song, "Love You Till the Day You Die". Angie Louise uses her unique, patented dry martini acerbic humor to wring laughs aplenty out of the roles of Assistant Wedding Planner #1 and especially snaky Aunt Sheila, while Village stalwart John David Scott has fun with Assistant Wedding Planner #2 and cracks us up (and is utterly unrecognizable) as Uncle Morty.

Choreographer Christian Duhamel found the perfect moves for the cast in numbers that are a model of musical staging. Musical Director Tim Symons and a small but mighty band make the score sound great, though the volume sometimes drowns out the singers. Carey Wong's sets—various locales in the swanky hotel where the wedding takes place—are a joy to behold, Don Crosssley's lighting design is most attractive, and Melanie Burgess' costumes are perfectly observed.

I hope the highly entertaining It Shoulda Been You, tweaked a lot in rehearsals here, goes on to a New York production as planned. It won't awaken any springs, but it will sure send you home smiling.

It Shoulda Been You, runs at Village Theatre in Issaquah through April 22nd and then in Everett April 27th through May 20th. For tickets or information contact the Village Theatre box office at 425-392-2202 in Issaquah or 425-257-8600 in Everett or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo by Jay Koh



- David Edward Hughes



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