BWW Review: Mad Theatre of Tampa Presents a Blissful IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU at the Shimberg
IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU, the joyous wedding day musical presented by Mad Theatre of Tampa, doesn't have a bad thought in its head. At times we wonder if it has any thought in its head, but rest assured, any thoughts it does have are good. The show contains some of the most mindless fun I've had at any musical of late; it's a guaranteed good time. Imagine the tickle of champagne bubbles in your nose, and that's the feeling you get while watching it. Giddy, goofy elation.
Even though it contains some eye-opening contemporary twists, IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU plays like an old school TV sit-com. And it has the feel-good ingredients to please audiences; it's like Grand Hotel meets Mamma Mia (but without the Abba hits). None of Brian Hargrove and Barbara Anselmi's songs are particularly memorable or have "hummable-mummable-mummable" melodies, to quote Merrily We Roll Along, but that doesn't prevent our enjoyment of the work. (I can whistle the entire score of Starlight Express, but that doesn't mean it's any good.) Each castmate has his or her standout musical moment where they get to show off all of their mighty vocals, and this is where the production really shines...What a cast!
Leading the way is Heather Mendoza as Jenny Steinberg, the bride-to-be's bigger-than-life sister who is always looked down upon by her Mama Rose-like mother from hell. Mendoza has always been outstanding in the various productions I've seen her in, but her performance here is some of her best work ever. She adds just the right touch of vulnerability and pathos to the role, added with a sort of pick-me-up-and-dust-myself-off resolve. And man, can she sing! She was heartbreaking and lovely in her big number, "Beautiful," with a belt so strong that we feared the Shimberg roof could cave in. If Ms. Mendoza hasn't thought about it yet, this is the type of showstopper that could become her go-to audition song if she wants.
Local audiences usually know Jarrett Koski as one of the area's busiest choreographers, but his performance here as Marty, the bride's ex who plans to disrupt the wedding, is a revelation. The energetic Koski is an adrenaline rush whenever he enters the stage. He shines in his signature song, "Whatever," and blends well with Mendoza in their duet, "Who," which even features an ode to Hairspray choreography with an invisible rope routine.
This is the first time I've had the pleasure of seeing Kate Holmes onstage, and she gives a "wow" performance as Georgette, the groom's judgmental mother. Holmes started off fine, perhaps a wee bit shaky, but then she came into her own with a rousing rendition of "Where Did I Go Wrong?" By the end of the show, she proved herself as one of the very best of the fine cast.
Judy Steinberg, the bride's overbearing stereotypical Jewish mother, is a part originally played by Tyne Daly on Broadway. Here, Francesca Guanciale Jay seems more like Patti LuPone than Ms. Daly in the role, and it also seems almost like a sequel to her part as Joanne in last year's Mad Theatre production of Company. She hits every laugh line here and works well opposite Holmes' Georgette, especially in her smiling-tigress-ready-to-maul-a-victim number, "Nice" (which, if I'm not mistaken, sounds exactly like a Sondheim knockoff).
Justin Batten is an audience favorite as a flamboyant wedding planner, Albert. Donald Holt, as the bride's father, becomes sort of an anchor of sanity when the wedding party seems to rock out of control. Anna Morris makes a splendid bride who may hold a secret or two. NaTasha McKeller is strong as the bride's friend, Annie. Jeff Watson holds his own as the best man, Greg Madison. And Jen Martin as Aunt Sheila/Mimsy and Lee Holmes as a cigar-chomping Uncle Morty/Walt show off their versatility by performing two distinctly different parts (with spot-on costume changes).
My choice for Best in Cast honors must go to Michael Silvestri, who turns the smaller part of George, the groom's prenup-centric dad, into a hero. It's an odd situation when the audience is rooting for the quasi-baddie because the performer is so stellar. Silvestri's duet with his son, well-played by Michael Bonassar, "Back in the Day," is the highlight of the entire show. Silvestri's soft shoe is a thing of beauty, performed with Astaire-like ease and confidence. (Bonassar has a hard time keeping up, which works perfect when knowing the father-son dynamics at play here.) I have seen Michael Silvestri in three shows now, and he has become not just Tampa's finest community theatre performer, but one of the finest actors, period, in the entire area (including professional theatres). I can't wait to see what he does next.
The production is ably guided by director Tony Gilkinson, who gets the most out of his cast and keeps the showing moving at an entertaining, brisk-but-not-too-brisk pace. He shares choreography duties with Koski, and their work here is clever, full of heart, and overflowing with fun. Dwayne A. Cline's set design is functional at best, and it sort of reminds me of the hotel in The Shining but without any room numbers. And there seem to be more wigs in this show than any I've seen since freeFall's Marie Antoinette, and that was set in the 1700's.
Music directors Amy Nickerson and Tim Flores do extraordinary work. The band is located backstage, and features Flores on piano, Bobby DeAngelis on reeds, Maribeth Radktke on violin, Alex Pasut on the electric bass, and Nico Remy on drums. Flores also conducts, and his group of talented musicians keeps everything at the very top level.
IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU runs thru Sunday, July 29 at the Shimberg Playhouse in the Straz Center. We are living through some very dark, confusing times. And nothing can get us out the darkness better than a perfect wedding or someone else's perfectly crazy wedding. And in IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU, the nuptials get pretty nutty. Mad Theatre's blissful production is the antidote I prescribe to get us through these insane times.