Ever wonder what would happen if Vera Wang were to design a poly-blend bridesmaid dress? The effect would be similar to It Shoulda Been You, the wan new musical comedy that opened tonight at Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre. A lot of very talented people — stars like Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris, director David Hyde Pierce, costumer William Ivey Long — have invested a whole lot of effort into dressing up a wedding-themed show that is strictly off-the-rack. And in this case, more Century 21 than Kleinfeld’s.
The setting is Brooklyn’s Hotel St. George, where a nice Jewish girl (Sierra Boggess) is about to marry her old college pal (David Burka) — much to the displeasure of both her overbearing mother (Tyne Daly) and his WASPy cocktail-guzzling mom (Harriet Harris). Meanwhile, the bride’s big-boned older sister (Lisa Howard, utterly charming) scurries about smoothing tensions, unruffling feathers, and fending off the bride’s reception-crashing ex-boyfriend (Josh Grisetti).
The yuk-filled script by Brian Hargrove (Pierce’s husband in real life), from a concept by composer Barbara Anselmi, is a dated bit of culture-clash farce that could have been lifted from Love American Style, The Love Boat or any number of decades-old comedies. There are some genuine laughs throughout, but most hit squarely below the borscht belt. “You never marry when you’re in your goyim phase,” Daly’s character declares, while the groom’s father (Michael X. Martin) tells his wife, “You don’t want ice, dear, it waters down the alcohol.” Hargrove sneaks in a mid-show plot twist that strives for of-the-moment relevance, but it doesn’t make much sense and muddles many of the characters’ motivations.
Anselmi’s songs are pleasant enough, but they play more like pastiches of Broadway show tunes than future standards. (The strongest may be the closing number, a quartet for the parents of the bride and groom called “It’s Family.”) It doesn’t help that Hargrove’s lyrics, with rhymes like “sarong/so wrong” and “Jewish/thirty-two-ish,” are merely cleverish. And Daly, a consummate trouper appearing in her first Broadway musical since Gypsy two decades ago, is saddled with lyrics like these: “Oh boy, am I ferklempt / It’s better than I ever dreamt.”
The talented cast makes it all go down very easily, and there’s a comforting familiarity in seeing the clichéed characters march down the aisle of familiar wedding tropes. But It Shoulda Been You, which debuted four years ago at New Jersey’s George Street Playhouse, feels out of place on Broadway. Does it offer something old? Most definitely. Something borrowed? Check. Something new? Not so much. And that, alas, should make most audiences rather blue. Grade: C+