Encore Michigan

Mason Street puts on a fine wedding with ‘It Shoulda Been You’

Review August 24, 2017 Bridgette Redman

SAUGATUCK, Mich.–Sometimes you think you know what you’re getting into only to have the show’s creators surprise you—and then surprise you again.

It Shoulda Been You, which Mason Street Warehouse is closing their season with, starts out as a pretty standard wedding farce. It’s got seven doors on two different levels that get slammed as people chase in and out of them—just as one might expect. It has a Bridezilla in crisis and in-laws who don’t get along. It’s got conflicting religions and an ex-boyfriend who shows up to crash the show.

And it’s got the sister who is the co-maid of honor, trying to keep everyone happy and making sure the day is perfect.

But somewhere right before the first half ends, 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 lyrcist 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.

The musical was created in 2011 and made its way to Broadway in 2015. That it is now on regional tours is a treat for anyone who makes it to Saugatuck where the show gets beautiful treatment under the hands of director Kurt Stamm.

Stamm makes sure the musical has the pacing of a farce while still giving the important moments their due and letting the surprises have time to play out. He also did an excellent job with casting.

Katie Finan plays the older sister, Jenny Steinberg, who disappoints her mother by being overweight and more interested in her career than in dating. The mother, Judy (Sue Cella), is casually callous about her daughter’s feelings and under-appreciative of the efforts she is making to ensure the wedding day is perfect for Rebecca (Casey Prins), the bride.

Finan, who is a plus-size model and describes herself as a body-positive advocate, displays the real struggle that Jenny has and the hurt that is caused by the fat shaming. Yet, she’s not one to dissolve into tears—Finan gives Jenny the strength of a woman who has dealt with this all her life while infusing her with wistfulness and frustration.

It’s easy to like Jenny, and not just because Finan is truly a physically beautiful woman, but also because she has an inner strength and vulnerability that she makes sure comes across. She has an excellent voice, one which is musically brilliant while still being committed to ensuring that the lyrics tell a story and communicate her character.

Prins is also up to the challenge of playing to the stereotype while still making sure her character has depth. Her best moment comes in the second act when she sings “A Little Bit Less Than,” a song which gives the entire musical a moral compass. She traverses the arc from shallow to sincere and she shows us why her sister is willing to go to such lengths for her. The relationship and chemistry the two sisters have is wonderful.

But the show doesn’t belong to the sisters alone. In fact, of the eight Equity actors in the show, neither of them are the sisters. Cella is commanding as the overbearing Jewish mother. Like the others, she starts out as a stereotype and grows into something more. In several tender moments that are played just right, she shows us what real married love looks like between her and her husband, Murray Steinberg (Michael Iannucci). They have fantastic chemistry. Cella shines in the number “Nice” in which she and the Christian mother of the groom butt heads.

Speaking of the mother of the groom, Beth Glover’s Georgette Howard is a work of art. She drinks, she mourns her son’s marriage and she shows that age is no barrier to good sex.

David Spencer plays Albert, the wedding planner who has an almost supernatural ability to anticipate every need, solve every crisis and ensure that any wedding at St. George’s hotel will go off without a hitch. Spencer knows just how to get the laughs while playing his character as proper and omnipresent.

There are no weak performances in this cast. The groom and his best man, the co-maid of honor, the ex-boyfriend, the father of the groom, the drunken aunt—everyone hits every note, making the show a delight from start to finish. The voices blended well, the timing was spot on and everyone was generous in giving to the others on stage.

It Shoulda Been You is also very cleverly put together. While there are plenty of surprises in the second act, all of them are earned. All of them have had hints dropped early on, making it a rewarding experience for the audience.

Jeremy Barnett put together a spotless set that screamed luxury and made every entrance and exit work. It was a solid set that let Stamm create stage pictures with effective levels. Macey Madias’ props ranged from wedding cakes to bathroom towels to hanging dresses. All of them were designed to move quickly on and off the stage.

Costume designer Maribeth Valesano and wig master James Leppa avoided the cheap laughs of bows-on-butts bridesmaid dresses and over-the-top guest wear. Instead they provided an elegance and beauty to each character.

Music director Jamie Reed and assistant music director Brent Decker lead the orchestra so that it never overpowers the singers and knows just how to allow the music to play out when the audience is laughing. “It Shoulda Been You” has a variety of music that tells a story, even if it won’t leave people humming anything as they leave.

Mason Street Warehouse picked a perfect musical to close out their season. It’s one their progressive and sophisticated audience can appreciate and plays to their best instincts. It tackles real concerns, creates authentic relationships and does it while never sacrificing a laugh. It’s a highly entertaining show that leaves you feeling good when you head out into the resort town after the show.

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Week of 9/27/2021

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