BWW Review: IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU at Uptown Players
When IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU opened on Broadway in April of 2015, it didn't quite get the reception the producers intended, closing just shy of three months later and receiving zero Tony Awards nominations. But, the producers at Uptown Players saw a hidden gem, and took a chance on this sweet, funny wedding-themed musical - and now local audiences have a chance to take part in the nuptial entertainment.
The show opens during the final hours of wedding preparations for bride-to-be Rebecca Steinberg (Katie Moyes Williams) and Brian Howard (Matthew Clark). Rebecca's sister, Jenny (Jodi Wright) has been tasked with perfecting the wedding details by the sisters' parents (played by Linda Leonard and Dan Servetnick). As is to be expected in a musical-comedy wedding, the happy couple's parents don't always get along; in fact, the groom's Catholic parents couldn't be more different from the bride's cliché Jewish parents. Chaos ensues, first when the bride's ex-boyfriend arrives (after an accidental phone call from sister Jenny), and then when the best man and maid of honor get overly involved with the big day. And immediately as wedding bells ring over the newlyweds, a surprising plot twist just before intermission shifts gears and sends the show in a shocking direction.
At its best, the show provides a healthy balance of witty banter, toe-tapping tunes, and an honest message about unconditional love and acceptance. But, it takes a bit of time in Act One to get to the heart of the story, introducing an endless array of characters and a handful of more-clunky-than-cute tunes. Once those obstacles are overcome (just before intermission hits), the writers land in their sweet spot, with smooth sailing through the curtain call.
Uptown Players' has assembled a top-notch cast for this affair: Katie Moyes Williams and Matthew Clark are endearing as the young lovers, both having great opportunities to demonstrate their vocal talents. Their wedding party sidekicks, Chris Ramirez (Greg) and Kimberly M. Oliver (Annie) bring down the house with the hilarious wedding toast. But it's the remaining female family members who really steal the show: Jodi Wright's Jenny is equally heartwarming and heartbreaking. Her Act Two bluesy ballad is one of the highlights of the show. Both Wendy Welch (Georgette/Mother of the Groom) and Linda Leonard (Judy/Mother of the Bride) would be giving career-making performers, but for the fact that each actress is already an established local treasure. Welch perfectly plays the pearl-clutching priss, and her breakthrough late in the show is warmly welcomed. Leonard elevates the energy onstage each time she takes a step, and her unapologetically abrasive approach hits a home run. Noelle Mason also deserves praise for her scene-stealing moments as floozy, boozy Aunt Sheila.
Director and choreographer Ann Nieman earns her applause for the casting decisions on this show. Her work shines in her ability to create and facilitate dynamic, yet diverse personalities. The opening night performance suggested that more focus could have been paid toward comedic timing (particularly in an early bathroom scene); pacing issues slowed down the first hour, as rolling chairs were relocated countless times without any creative impact on the show. This, however, is forgiven and forgotten as the show finally finds its footing.
IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU might have found a more successful New York run in an off-Broadway house, as it's modest ambition better lends itself to a smaller scale like the Kalita Humphreys Theater. Despite any minor shortcomings, Uptown's cast and interpretation of the show is likely the best representation of the author's intent. And although the show's themes might not seem to fit Uptown's traditional fare as clearly as HEDWIG or LA CAGE, IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU delivers a timely message and plenty of surprises.
The production runs through April 9th. Tickets and more information can be found at www.UptownPlayers.com.