Every Broadway season produces a punching bag or two (Moose Murders, which closed on opening night and became a synonym for flop; A Tale Of Two Cities, which ought to have closed on opening night to seal off the loss at a mere $16 million). Often the punching bag comes with a title that invites critical brickbats. The 100-minute musical It Shoulda Been You delivers the goodies on both counts: It’s terrible. And it shoulda been left in turnaround after years of kicking around agency offices, instead of being offered up for sacrifice in this $7 million vanity production. Oh, the things we do for love…
Perhaps I’m wrong about that. Maybe the exceedingly talented David Hyde Pierce (TV’s Frasier, Broadway’s Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike) decided that this cellophane-thin story about the wedding day that would unite a crisply sniping Jewish family (hers) with a boozily bigoted Gentile one (his) was the brilliant choice for his debut as a Broadway director. Hmmm. The punchlines are on the level of “I couldn’t fit into this if I were cremated” and “Why is she talking like a big black woman?” As with steam-table victuals, the jokes may be lousy but there are plenty to go around. The songs’ rhymes are not only inane but you can predict them beats, if not whole measures, before they land, and Barbara Anselmi’s generic pop melodies made me miss Frank Wildhorn. No, seriously. Did I mention that the tiresome book and lyrics are by Brian Hargrove, also making his Broadway debut in that capacity (OK, in any capacity) and coincidentally the husband of Hyde Pierce?
A surprise twist at midpoint is meant to give It Shoulda Been You a contemporary zing. But it’s pandering and so lacking in credibility that you may actually be impressed by the knots Hargrove ties himself up in to make the story seem plausible.
Nevertheless, Hargrove, Hyde Pierce and Anselmi are blessed with a superior roster of actors on the Brooks Atkinson Theatre stage, led by Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris playing the dueling matriarchs. As she demonstrated in Terrence McNally’s Mothers And Sons (not to mention Gypsy), Daly is non pareil at playing mean moms ripe for conversion into gushy affection fonts, while Harris, doling out insults like so much candy corn, pretty much owns the snobby-lush territory. These two are expert at the verbal volleying, even when the ball is made of lead.
As the betrothed couple, there are Little Mermaid Sierra Boggess and David Burtka (Gypsy; The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia?), given little to do beyond look cute (which they do with aplomb). Lisa Howard, also adorned with credits, notably The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, plays the zaftig older sister who saves the day (and raises the roof). Nimble Josh Grisetti is the beau who got away and yet returns intent on disrupting the proceedings.
Edward Hibbert plays, well, Edward Hibbert as the all-knowing, flamboyant (if you catch my drift) wedding planner. And there’s yet more talent wasted: the wonderful Montego Glover (Memphis) as the bride’s best friend, and troupers Chip Zien (Into The Woods, Falsettos) and Michael X. Martin (The Bridges Of Madison County) as the prospective fathers-in-law. Poor Anne L. Nathan (Once) plays the inevitable slutty aunt. So much talent, so little show.