Musical finds new audiences after being jilted on Broadway
By Jim Roberts
“It Shoulda Been You” had a short run on Broadway—it closed after only 135 performances—but the musical quickly found a second wind in local theaters all over the United States.
What starts as a conventional comedic premise—a Jewish bride and a Catholic groom on their wedding day—takes some unexpected turns, thanks to their overbearing parents, the bridal party and a host of other characters, including a “cougar” aunt and a hard-of-hearing uncle.
“Somewhere right before the first half ends,” Bridgette Redman wrote in a review of a 2017 production in Saugatuck, Michigan, “things take a twist, and the musical never once goes back to the expected. It instead shows that music writer Barbara Anselmi and book and lyricist Brian Hargrove have created something that is thoroughly modern, will make you think, challenges preconceptions and takes on important social issues—all while making you laugh and thoroughly entertaining you.”
Robert Shirley saw the Saugatuck show and pitched it to his colleagues at the Little Theater of Virginia Beach. When they added it to the theater’s 2018-2019 season, Shirley signed on to direct.
“It is hysterically funny,” he told Veer Magazine in the show’s final weeks of rehearsal. “All kinds of things that could go crazy do. It’s just one thing after another, and the lines are quick. There are some twists, but it’s really just very cute.”
Shirley cast Kathryn Gardner and Marshall Robey as the bride and groom, Rebecca and Brian, and Karen Buchheim, Rob Fortner, Kay Burcher and Sandy Lawrence as their parents, the Steinbergs and the Howards. Other members of the ensemble cast include Kathy Hinson as Rebecca’s sister, Clifford Hoffman as the wedding planner, and Michael Casalaspro as—spoiler alert—Rebecca’s ex.
“The show is hilarious,” said Gardner, a Pennsylvania native who studied musical theater and voice at West Virginia Wesleyan University before moving to Virginia Beach. “I love the way all the characters connect—the different relationships and how you see the way the parents are with their children.”
Gardner is already drawing early praise from Buchheim, the 25-year LTVB veteran who plays her mother. “She has a lovely voice, and she’s great to work with,” Buchheim said. “I think she’s just really cast well, as most of the people in the show are.”
Buchheim said the show has “so much charm.” “We’re still enjoying it, as many times as we’ve gone over it,” she said. “When you’re in something like that where everybody’s having a good time, you’re pretty sure that the audience will enjoy it as well.”
So why didn’t the Broadway production have a more successful run?
It had star power in Tony Award-winner Tyne Daly and was directed by David Hyde Pierce, but it probably didn’t help that it opened in 2015–the same year as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “School Of Rock” and an Oprah Winfrey-produced revival of “The Color Purple.”
Shirley has another theory. “So many things now are a take-off of a movie or a book or a cartoon,” he said. “This is one of the few plays that’s actually been written for the stage.”
What didn’t play on the Great White Way has proven to be a welcome fit for audiences from Saugatuck to Walnut Creek, California, to Coral Gables, Florida, and now, Shirley hopes, Virginia Beach. “It’s got a quick rhythm to it,” he said. “The lyrics are funny. The lines are funny. The characters are well-drawn. It does make it a very interesting evening.”
“It Shoulda Been You” will run from Nov. 16 through Dec. 9 at the Little Theater of Virginia Beach. Tickets are $20 for Friday and Saturday evening performances and $18 for Sunday matinees; discounts are available for students, military, seniors and groups of 20 or more. For more information, visit ltvb.com.