Review: “It Shoulda Been You”

Circle Theater, It Shoulda Been You

Circle Theatre’s season finale, “It Shoulda Been You,” is a classic case of “here comes the bride.”

And the bride’s super efficient but pleasingly plump sister; their overbearing Jewish mother and doting father; the slightly nerdy ex-boyfriend; the magically appearing gay wedding planner; the gin-guzzling mother-in-law-to-be; the always-partying best man and maid-of-honor. And the groom. Did I forget to mention the groom?

This nuptial fiasco is everything you expect, until a few surprises pop out of the wedding cake.

Although the topic has been done dozens of times before, this fresh-from-Broadway, 2015 musical comedy by Brian Hargrove and Barbara Anselmi takes a strictly new-millennium approach. The score isn’t catchy tunes you’ll be humming on the way home. Much of it is more like rhythmic conversation, but there are melodic high points that give the talented cast opportunity to show off their pipes.

The fast-paced opening number introduces everybody and sets the bar for the unexpected. Director Mike Hull keeps up that pace throughout the 90-minute one-act. Set in a posh New York hotel, the stage is open to action with flashy upholstered cubes that morph from boudoir to hair salon or reception hall. Scenic designer Don Wilson ties it all together with a two-story backdrop with plenty of doors for slamming and hiding.

From the moment Albert, the wedding planner, appears in the opening number you know he’s destined to steal the show, and actor Shane German doesn’t disappoint. He is indeed a nuptial Houdini, as he is touted in the musical number “Albert’s Turn.” He also spouts witty observations which German delivers spot on.

But from the opening scene to the finale this is really the story of Jenny, the bride’s sister, portrayed to perfection by Emily Diener. Costume designer Bill Dunckel wisely uses horizontal stripes and pleats to make Jenny appear more dowdy in the beginning, but as the day progresses, and the costumes change, Jenny’s inner beauty shines through. Diener has the vocal range to grow with her character from the whiney opener “I Never Wanted This” to the torchy “Jenny’s Blues” when Diener raises the roof.

Of course, the bride, Rebecca (Dara Kammeraad), has a few shining moments as well. In a show that’s more about fun than feelings, Rebecca has the one really heartfelt song, “A Little Bit Less Than,” and Kammerand brings it home.

Although the groom, Brian (David Houseman), gets pretty much overlooked in the deluge of disasters, he does have a great song-and-dance routine, “Back in the Day,” with his father George (Michael Dodge).

As ex-beau Marty, Lucas Story excels at one of the most challenging roles of the evening from interacting spontaneously with the audience, to being the center of attention in the title song, to pulling off a realistic romantic lead.

The surprise hit song of the evening was a wildly oversold “Love You Till the Day” by best man Greg (Drew Angell) and maid of honor Annie (Katie Tamayo).

The meddling Jewish mother Judy (Teri Kuhlman) gets in a few zingers, especially in the beauty shop number “Nice.” There’s a warm, believable chemistry between the bride’s parents, and an understated charm to the father, Murray (Tony Peraino.) At the opposite extreme are the groom’s over-the-top mom Georgette (Martha Cudlipp Bundra) and timid father George. Stathi Afendoulis and Kallie Piette take on double duty appearing both as helpful hotel staff and embarassing relatives.

Music director Scott Patrick Bell and his five-piece band do a great job with a score that seems to run almost non-stop throughout the show. With a few exceptions, and a nod to choreographer Erin Kacos, this is not a typical song-and-dance musical. And yet the entrances and exits, and constantly moving cast, require a great deal of coordination and timing.

Opening night wasn’t packed, and Circle is taking a chance on a new show without name recognition. But I dare say every one of the 350 who attended the opening performance had a good time. It shoulda been you.

Circle Theater’s production of “It Shoulda Been You” runs through Sept. 23.

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