🎭 A Warped Interfaith Shakespearean Comedy | “It Shoulda Been You” @ MTG

It Shoulda Been You (MTG)MTG UserpicTrust me, you’ll understand the title by the time I’m done explaining things. Just as with Saturday’s show, A Body of Water, there was confusion in the show we saw Sunday night: It Shoulda Been You at the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). But this confusion was a good confusion, and the story progressed in a clear manner from Point A to Point B. But the path along the way was, shall we say, a bit warped. Point A starts with an Interfaith Wedding. Point B is the ending every Shakespearean comedy has. Ah, but the journey… the journey…

Warning: This writeup does contain spoilers. Given the age of the show, the availability of the cast album, and the fact that this was a single night performance, I’m not worried. But you’ve been forewarned.

It Shoulda Been You is a musical with book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove, and music and concept by Barbara Anselmi. It opened on Broadway in August 2015, and ran for 31 previews and 135 performances. I still remember the humor in the number they did at the Tony Awards. But it didn’t last, and it never went on tour. Luckily,  the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) brought it back for a one-night, staged reading performance. This means: 25 hours of rehearsals, minimal costumes and scenery, actors have their scripts in their hands per AEA rules, and a focus on the score and the story.

So what’s the story. It starts with an interfaith wedding, being told from the point of view of the oldest daughter, Jenny Steinberg. She’s a little bit zaftig, and her mother, Judy, has been pressuring her with the wedding planning, and guilting her for not being married or even having a relationship — as only a Jewish mother can do. Criticizing everything, butting in everywhere. Luckily, there is an all-knowing, all-seeing wedding planner to save the day. So what about the bride and groom. The bride, Rebecca, is having cold feet about the wedding, but the best man (Greg Madison) and maid of honor (Annie Sheperd) are holding that together. The groom, Brian Howard, is the reason for the culture clash. Coming from a nice WASP upper-class family, his parents, Georgette and George Howard, don’t want this marriage — for obvious WASPish reasons, if you get my drift. This whole mix is complicated when Jenny accidentally calls Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend Marty, who rushes over to stop the wedding.

As I said, crazy comedy, but it gets worse. Insert all the expected Jewish and WASPish jokes. Insert all the jokes about drinking. Insert all the typical self-worth issues any wedding brings out. Insert last minute prenuptial contracts to protect the trust fund, and all that stress.

But, eventually, things get worked out and the wedding happens. But then Jenny walks into the room with the Bride and Groom after the wedding… to find the Bride busily kissing the Maid of Honor, and the Groom kissing the Best Man. You see, it turns out that her sister and her fiancee are both gay. The wedding was a scheme to split the trust fund, so they could be with their real loves. Oh, and the sister is pregnant by her gay groom, thanks to one night with too much drinking. Now comes the next part: how to tell the parents, and will they be cool with it?

Let’s add one more complication: the ex-boyfriend of the bride, Rebecca? He wanted to stop the wedding not because he was in love with Rebecca, but because he knew she was gay. He’s been in love with Jenny since school days, but never told her. Insert proposal.

As I said: A Shakespearean comedy, as everyone ends up married and in love at the end. One might easily draw some parallels to Two Gentlemen of Verona or Twelfth Night.

As for what I thought of the show: I had heard the music before (I have the album), so I knew what was going on going in. In fact, we even used this as an event for the live theatre group at our synagogue. But the show was much much funnier than the cast album made it out to be. Just like with $5 Shakespeare (last Sunday’s show), this one was laugh out loud funny. Many of the jokes were extra funny if you knew the stereotypes or tropes behind them. So I really, really enjoyed this show.

I also liked quite a few of the songs, but they were much more contextual — not songs you would walk out the theatre humming or as an earworm. Nope, this is not a The Last Ship. But some songs, such as “A Little Bit Less Then” or “Jenny’s Blues” are just beautiful, and convey touching messages. Many of the other songs are just extremely funny, going from the opening number to the “That’s Family” number at the end.

So why did this show fail? I think, in some ways, it didn’t find its audience. The liberal Jewish audience would have no problem with a gay wedding, and the more conservative Orthodox audience wouldn’t have the interfaith aspects occurring. Some of the jokes may have fallen flat. But, I think, just as with the recent The Prom, much as we think audiences are ready to look at the humor in a particular subject, sometimes they just surprise us by not being ready. So why does something like The Book of Mormon work? One could say it was the message at the heart of it, but this is a Shakespearean comedy at its heart and that is timeless. Perhaps people were ready to laugh at Mormons? Perhaps this just needs to be rediscovered. I still think this should have toured.

Those who were able to make it out to the Alex Sunday night were treated to a wonderful show with wonderful performances, and only a few sound problems. Unlike Encores in NYC, these shows don’t have the possibility of extending. But if you see a production of It Shoulda Been You pop up near you, give it a try. I think you’ll find it a very fun evening.

One of the things that made this production so good was the performances. As I noted earlier: the cast gets a total of 25 hours to pull this together. They have scripts in hand. They haven’t had the time to polish and shine their musical numbers. So when performances are outstanding, that indicates a particular level of skill.

At the top of the performance chart was Julie Garnyé (★FB, FB) Jenny. She just hit it out of the ballpark with humor and character and fun. Her performances in both “Beautiful” and “Jenny’s Blues” were outstanding. Also strong was the actor playing her younger sister, Ashley Fox Linton (FB) Rebecca.  She also brought a load of humor to the role, and gave a touching performance in her main number, “A Little Bit Less Then”.

This brings us to the actors playing the Steinberg parents: Eileen Barnett (FBJudy and Anthony Gruppuso (FBMurry. Barnett, as in any Jewish family, had the larger role. She got to play some wonderfully humorous numbers, such as “Nice”, but also got the touching number “What They Never Tell You”.  Gruppuso got a smaller role in terms of songs, but handled the humor well as he always does.

Turning to the groom’s side of the equation, there was Zachary Ford (FBBrian Howard.  Ford is quite adept at playing comical characters, and he handled this quite well. His soft shoe with his father, “Back in the Day”, was spectacular.

Playing a larger role were the groom’s parents: Barbara Carlton Heart (FBGeorgette and Bryan Chesters (FBGeorge. Heart did a great job of the humor in Georgette, especially in numbers like “Where Did I Go Wrong” and the closing “That’s Family”. As noted above, Chesters did a great job with Ford in “Back in the Day”.

But if you want the real humor in the story, that credit goes to one of my favorite performers, Jason Graae (★FBAlbert, the wedding planner. He upped the humor an order of magnitude with the performance he brought to the role, and made every scene he was in. Graae is just a delight to watch.

The remaining members of the wedding party were Travis Leland (FBMarty Kaufman, the ex-boyfriend; Helen Jane Planchet (FBAnnie Shepard, the maid of honor; and Adam Lendermon (FBGreg Madison, the best man.  Leland did a spectacular job, especially in numbers like “Whatever”. He also had a delightful chemistry with Garnye’s Jenny. Planchet and Lendermon had more comic supporting roles, but they did wonderfully with them.

Rounding out the cast were Thomas W. Ashworth (FBWalt/Uncle Morty and Pamela Hamill (FBAunt Sheila/Mimsy.

Music was provided by a small on-stage band consisting of  Dan Redfeld (★FBFB) Music Director / Piano; Steve Dress (FBBass; and Albie Berk (FBPercussion.  Although small, they had a wonderful sound.

The production was pulled together in the famous 25 hours by Josh Grisetti (FBDirector and Mackenzie Perpich (FB) Choreographer. Adding to the stress for this duo is that they just got married… to each other… less than 2 weeks ago and cut their honeymoon short to do this show. No pressure there, but it certainly meant that they understood the stress that is involved with planning a wedding and having things go wrong. That experience was demonstrated on the stage as they perfectly choreographed both the humor and the movement, and worked with the talented acting team to bring off the production with few hitches.

Finally, we turn to the production and creative side: Set Design … none. Well, a few tables, a few boxes. Lighting design … minimal, with no credit. Sound design … minimal, which is a bad thing because microphone problems invariably happen in these productions. The one thing they did have were costumes, including two beautiful wedding dresses, that were coordinated by  A Jeffrey Schoenberg / AJS Costumes (FB). Other production credits: Paul Wong (★FBFB) Production Coordinator;  Leesa Freed (FB) Production Stage Manager, Production Manager; Stacey Cortez and Debra Miller (FB) Assistant Stage Managers.

This was a one-time only performance. The next Musical Theatre Guild (FB) performance is May 3, 2020 for the musical Kismet, which actually started here in Los Angeles at the LA Civic Light Opera. Tickets are available through the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) website. MTG announced much of their next season, which includes Mack and Mabel, The Wedding Singer, and Brigadoon, together with a show to be announced.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

Sunday night brought It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB) — that’s next on the writeup stack. Next weekend is crazy, as it brings  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB). Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. As for the last weekend of February, I’ll be in Madison WI visiting my daughter, the the lineup she has scheduled is busy: Madison’s Funniest Comic Contest on Wednesday (meaning I’ll miss Survivor), The Revolutionists from Mercury Players Theatre/Bartell Theatre on the UW Madison campus on Friday (Eileen Evers is an alternative); the Lee Blessing play Down The Road from Two Crows Theatre Company on Saturday (columbinus at Edgewood College is the bad weather backup), and MST 3000 on Sunday. Whew! Alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes due to this.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB)

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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