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Review: 'Shoulda Been You' in Walnut Creek a witty winner

By Sam Hurwitt

Posted: 09/10/2016 01:59 PM


tenderlyCenter Repertory Company’s season opener “It Shoulda Been You” is a welcome surprise. Fresh from a Broadway run last year, the 2011 musical conceived and composed by Barbara Anselmi, with book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove, sounds a bit hokey at first. It takes place at the wedding of a young Jewish woman and gentile man, and initially it seems like the show is just going to be about the kooky culture clash between the two families, which would be a pretty thin hook to hang a musical on.

Happily, there’s more to it than that, but it’s hard to talk about its twists and turns without giving too much away. Also, the kookiness of the families goes a long way.

The main character is Jenny, the older sister of the bride, stressed out by the responsibility of making sure everything goes beautifully and constantly oppressed by the fact that, as far as her mother’s concerned, Jenny can do nothing right and her sister Rebecca can do no wrong. When Elizabeth Curtis’ sympathetically frazzled Jenny finally gets a moment to cut loose in song, it’s tremendously satisfying.

Cindy Goldfield is hilarious as the constantly nitpicking mother Judy, who can never contain herself from saying exactly what’s on her mind, and Brian Herndon makes a perfect match for her as her good-humored husband, Murray, who knows to just stay out of her way.

On the WASP side of the family, Maureen McVerry is also a comedic treat as the groom’s mother, Georgette, a hard-drinking master of the blithely offensive remark that’s sure to set Judy’s teeth on edge. Richard Frederick is a dryly funny George, Georgette’s golf club toting husband, who’s apparently so uptight that he’s just now learning how to hug his son.

Jade Shojaee makes a radiant but amusingly nervous bride as Rebecca, and Nathaniel Rothrock is endearingly awkward as Brian, her goyish fiance who tries way too hard (and way too unsuccessfully) to speak Yiddish. Jeremy Kahn exudes laid-back likeability as Marty, Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend, who takes a misdialed call from Jenny as a sign that he has to try to stop the wedding.

The entire cast is superb, even if some characters, such as best man Greg (Jason Rehklau) and maid of honor Annie (Miia Ashley) don’t get much of a chance to be characters until the second act, when they do a pricelessly melodramatic wedding toast in song. Scottie Woodard is bursting with flashy charm as Albert, the seemingly omniscient wedding planner who thinks of everything. Suzie Shepard does double duty as Albert’s assistant who revels in chaos and the voracious cougar Aunt Sheila, while Paul Plain doubles as a gloomy assistant and the hysterically forgetful Uncle Morty.

Director Marc Jacobs gives the show a lively staging, with some vibrant choreography by Gia Solari on a father-son bonding number with Brian and George that leads up to a riotous punch line, “He gave him a whole song and dance about it.” Kelly James Tighe’s elegant set brings to life the palatial lobby of a swanky hotel, and Maggie Morgan’s costumes are appropriately attractive for the occasion.

The songs aren’t all winners. There are some saccharine or corny numbers, especially early on, but Hargrove’s lyrics are delightfully comical in others such as the title song, sung to Marty by most of Rebecca’s family. They’re all performed beautifully by the cast and the hidden orchestra under the direction of Brandon Adams.

There’s a major plot twist at the end of the first act that sows confusion in the latter half, but when all is eventually explained it’s too funny and charming to mind a little strained credulity. It’s a sweet and wonderfully entertaining show that demonstrates that sometimes the best weddings are the ones where everything goes wrong.

 


Center REP's "It Shoulda Been You" is a Heartwarming Musical Clash for the Ages!

By Jan Miller

Posted: 09/09/16

Center Repertory Company’s production of “It Shoulda Been You,” currently playing through October 8 at the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts (1601 Civic Drive), Walnut Creek, CA is a funny and heartwarming musical culture clash for the ages as two families from completely different backgrounds come together to celebrate a wedding. The characters are broadly caricatured comic types one might find at a sitcom wedding, featuring an overbearing Jewish mother, a high-strung bride, an alcoholic mother of the groom, a flamboyantly gay wedding planner, etc. Simply put, this terrific ensemble of players makes this production terribly amusing. 

The bright lights go up on a staging area at the elegant St. George Hotel (shades of Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite”), where the lavish Steinberg/Howard wedding is to be held that afternoon. It also serves as the bedrooms of members of the wedding party, along with the beauty salon, various service areas and even the ladies room where the bride tries to hide when she gets cold feet. The stage is perfectly designed for providing plenty of doors to slam, closets to jump out of, and toilet stalls to hide in, once the wedding preparations become complicated.

 A smartly staged opening number introduces the characters. There’s the overbearing mother of the bride (Cindy Goldfield, a true queen of comedy), the bride’s beleaguered father (Brian Herndon), the groom’s lush of a mother (Maureen McVerry, a wonderful performer), the groom’s very stern father (Richard Frederick), the gay-as-a-goose wedding planner (Scottie Woodard -- how can you not love him?), and, of course, the bride (the stunning Jade Shojaee) and groom (Nathaniel Rothrock).

At the center of all the chaos is the bride’s older, unmarried sister, Jenny, a “big-boned girl,” played with as much heart as humor by Elizabeth Curtis, who delivers a strong belt and deserves her moment in the sun. She gives a perfectly lovely, polished performance as the older sister who’s sick and tired of being treated like a jolly servant and wants people to stop fixating on her weight and see her beauty. And then comes the bride’s geeky ex-boyfriend, played by Jeremy Kahn, a perfectly wonderful actor who also deserves a break. 

The comedic complications to this “perfect” wedding can all be expected: cultural tensions between the bride’s Jewish family and the groom’s family of goys; the re-appearance of the bride’s unwanted ex-boyfriend; the mishap that “ruins” the bridal gown, etc. As the father of the bride aptly puts it, “Oy!”

It Shoulda Been You” confirms the sad truth that weddings — those supposed celebrations of everlasting love — can bring out the worst in some people. There’s plenty of the interdenominational kvetching, except that now it’s set to music, with lyrics such as these, from the title song:

“I don’t have a thing against gentiles.

I respect their heathen ways.

But everyone knows you never marry

When you’re in your goyim phase.”

At the end of the first act there’s an unexpected plot twist that promises to be a real game-changer. Without divulging too much, the bride and groom — and their maid of honor, Annie (the very talented Miia Ashley), and best man (Jason Rehklau) — turn out to have a secret or two to spring on the families.

There are lots of classic mother and mother-in-law jokes, and for a while it seems like the show is setting up an all-out catfight between the bride’s and groom’s mothers. But alas, before they can build up a head of steam, these two stylish actresses demonstrate a blanket of political correctness.

The show’s happy ending is quite contemporary, and without question has everyone in the audience leaving with a broad smile on their faces. 



You are Invited to the Wedding of the Fall Season at Center REP's Hilarious "It Shoulda Been You"

By Vince Mediaa

Posted: 09/11/2016

ISBY

THIS BRIDEZILLA IS FUN MUSICAL THEATRE, WITH

A STANDOUT CAST AND PRODUCTION TEAM.

DON’T MISS THIS ROMP OF A WEDDING.

The Center REP opens their 2016-17 season with a gorgeous wedding that we are all invited to. The Bay Area premiere IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU is now on stage at the Margaret Lesher venue through Oct 8. The 2011 hilarious musical has arrived from its successful Broadway run. Based on the classic comedy of a Jewish Goy wedding Abie's Irish Rose , this is a modern version of the story that takes us on a wild wedding day ride. IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU could remind you of a classic Catskills show featuring the iconic Jewish humor and family that would have played the Borscht Belt during the 40’s. Music by Barbara Anselmi, book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove, this very funny musical is a sure hit for Center REP audiences, who for the most part have sold out this run. Directed by the accomplished Marc Jacobs he brings a shining cast of comic performers and quality singers headed by the the powerhouse Elizabeth Curtis as the bride's sister Jenny.

We join the story the day of the huge family wedding, featuring an energetic cast of comic pros who take a simple Bridezilla tale to very amusing twists. Director Jacob’s has staged the romp with a skillful flair that makes the two hours fly by. It is a musical show that is truly a "guilty pleasure” and the bride's sister, Jenny (Curtis), opens the story with “I Never Wanted This” letting us know from the get go that she wants her sister's life. Curtis is the heart of this story and has a superb voice, along with the supporting cast.

The characters are excellent comic caricatures you would find in a sitcom wedding with the overbearing Jewish mother, the neurotic stressed bride, and a wise cracking mother of the groom. The flamboyant wedding planner, played lovable by Scottie Woodard with his staff Suzie Shepard and Paul Plain. Shepard is also the sexy cougar, Aunt Sheila, while Plain doubles as a bald Uncle Morty. The best woman is very special, played by the likeable, Miia Ashley, who is a perfect fit for best man Jason Rehklau. Jacobs and his terrific ensemble cast make this wedding as screwball as any Marx Brothers film or Hepburn in Bringing up Baby.

The company is high energy in “This Day” the song that introduces us to all the players, on a smart designed wide open polished Hotel lobby set by Kelly James Tighe. The two-level hotel set features plenty of doors for slamming, that includes a neon sign letting us know that we are at the elegant St George Hotel in New York. Tighe’s set has those many doors needed to bring the actors on and off stage with their hijinx and hide and seek humor.

Choreographed by Gia Solari, she kept the cast moving in the clever company opening, and Jacob’s lively direction makes sure to keep the ex-boyfriend on the run. The bride, Rebecca, played by the marvelous Jade Shojaee, and Curtis show a warm sister rivalry in the song “Perfect” as the two sisters figure it out. They both have satisfying voices and prove Hargrove’s songs are as emotional as they are humorous. The comic pros of dad and mom are played by Bay Area vets Cindy Goldfield and Brian Herndon. Jenny asks her father “Dad are you alright” “yeah I am fine, your mother and I had words, but I didn’t get to use any of mine“ Hargroves lines keep the audience giggling the whole pre wedding.

Goldfield and Herndon manage to make the bluish of jokes likable and hilarious while the story concerns the stressful marriage of the Jewish princess, Rebecca, to the Catholic boy next door, Brian, played by the dapper and adorable Nathaniel Rothrock. He sings “Back in The Day” with his dad George played by the charming Richard Frederick. The families open up to reveal they really love the ex-boy friend, Marty, played by the delightful Jeremy Kahn in the song “It Shoulda Been You” that also highlights the keen voice of Mom, Cindy Goldfield.

The matriarch for the Catholic side of the wedding is Georgette played by the very funny Maureen McVerry who is always at odds with her husband. Other characters in and out of these hotel room doors are best man Greg played by local favorite Jason Rehklau and maid of honor, Annie Sheps played by Miia Ashley. Scene stealer, Scottie Woodard, as the flamboyant wedding planner who is on top of all the needs of the moms and bride "I am glad I did not ask for this day off". The bride's former boyfriend, Marty, whose only goal is to stop the wedding takes the story through some unexpected doors and closets.

Anselmi’s score provides some excellent songs for these actors, the highlight of the night effectively sung by Curtis “Jenny’s Blues” that brought down the sold out crowd at the Margaret Lesher theatre. Jeremy Kahn, the frisky ex-boyfriend, is spontaneous beginning with his first appearance as his character receives an accidental phone call from Jenny while sitting out in the audience. Yes this story can be very predictable and contrived, but the Jewish humor is the best versus the groom's goys. The plot twist late in the show will not shock many but it is well timed. Costumes by Maggie Morgan keep all the men in the perfect tuxes, and the women are all bright gowns and dresses. Solari’s choreography is at its best in the big company numbers including “A Perfect Ending” and a great dance duo with Frederick and Rothrock in “Back in the Day”.

Shojaee sings a graceful solo ballad “A Little Bit Less Than” that respects her gorgeous voice and her intelligence. Music director, Brandon Adams, and his seven member pit are impressive, and Adams brings the best out of his ensemble. The lighting by Michael Oesch is plush as the back room colors of the hotel work into the main lobby set. “That's Family” featuring the confused relieved parents at the end of the two hour romp, and even though I have left out the punch line to this wedding afternoon, the two families end the zany day with smiles on their faces. IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU is the perfect heartwarming musical to start your fall season of theatre, and lets all hope that we get a second invite to the reception. Next up at Center REP is the comedy mystery Ken Ludwig's Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery. Tickets for IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU are limited, but if you are lucky enough to attend this wedding, book your seats soon.

 


 

My Cultural Landscape

By George Heymont

Posted: 09/25/2016

ISBY

Center REP in Walnut Creek recently opened its 2016-2017 season with the West Coast premiere of It Shoulda Been You in a production directed by Marc Jacobs and choreographed by Gia Solari on a handsome unit set designed by Kelly James Tighe with costumes by Maggie Morgan. While the first act worked steadily to lay the groundwork for the plot's contradictions and convolutions, it seemed a bit slow in reaching the big reveal at the end of Act I. By contrast, Act II was solidly entertaining and resonated nicely with the audience. One of the show's clear strengths is how easy it is for members of the audience to relate to the characters onstage.

Judy Steinberg (Cindy Goldfield) is the kind of passive-aggressive Jewish battle axe who pushes her husband and daughters around with the subtlety of a bulldozer. Constantly elevating the needs of her pretty daughter, Rebecca (Jade Shojaee), over the feelings of Jenny (Elizabeth Curtis), her plain and decidedly overweight daughter, she's a bit like Mama Rose without the lure of vaudeville to keep her distracted from reality.

ISBY

Judy's spouse, Murray (Brian Herndon), is a classic henpecked Jewish husband. The family's beloved Uncle Morty (Paul Plain) can barely hear what's happening around him despite the use of hearing aids. Aunt Sheila (Suzy Shepard) has survived enough insults from Judy's viper-like tongue that when she gets a juicy bit of gossip with which to return the compliment, she serves it up with flare. Even though Rebecca's "co-maid of honor," Annie Sheps (Mila Ashley) is black, Judy is willing to make believe that her daughter's best friend is also Jewish. For mothers like Judy, denial is never "just a river in Egypt."

As is to be expected, the goyim on the groom's side of the wedding are coping with a different set of issues. Georgette Howard (Maureen McVerry) is a lusty drunk who went out of her way to help foster an environment that could turn her son Brian (Nathaniel Rothrock) gay and is crushed that, by his getting married to Rebecca, she will no longer be his best girl. Her husband, George (Richard Frederick), is clumsily trying to learn how to show affection for his son. True to form, he is also insisting on a prenuptial agreement (which sends the bride and groom into a state of panic)..

Trying to second guess every potential mishap are Albert (Scottie Woodard), the kind of wedding planner who could make gay icons like Johnny Weir and Paul Lynde seem overly butch, and his lunkhead assistant, Walt (Paul Plain). Meanwhile, the bride, groom, co-maid of honor, best man Greg Madison (Jason Rehklau), and Rebecca's best friend, Marty Kaufman (Jeremy Kahn), have all been hiding a huge secret from Brian and Rebecca's parents.

Cindy Goldfield and Maureen McVerry have a clear handle on the inherent bitchiness of the two mothers and lace their comic moments with a touch of lemon-flavored acid. With music direction by Brandon Adams, Center Rep's extremely likable ensemble delivers a performance in which the second act is noticeably stronger than the first.

From the moment Jeremy Kahn's Marty leaps up from the audience and announces his plan to stop Rebecca's wedding until the time when he and Jenny realize that they've always loved each other and are willing to explore a relationship best defined by the word "Whatever," his performance continues to energize the proceedings.

In what may be the show's strongest trajectory of character development, Jenny moves from being the put-upon ugly duckling through her personal rage at not being informed of her sister's secret, to the unexpected triumph of finally hearing her mother say she's beautiful when she appears in a wedding gown, ready to take Marty's hand in marriage while Rebecca weds Annie and Brian and Greg tie the knot. As with Shakespeare's comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, the evening ends with three happy couples getting married and a pleasantly surprised audience going home happy.

Although It Shoulda Been You may have had a short run on Broadway, I expect it enjoy a long life in regional and community theatres. Why? The audience can easily relate to the characters onstage, which helps to make this show is a genuine crowd pleaser. Performances of It Shoulda Been You continue through October 8 at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.