*Contains major spoilers for the Broadway musical “It Shoulda Been You”*
Oh 2015, what a time to be alive and a musical theatre fan! As we head into the Tonys this Sunday, with Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron‘s very excellent and queer Fun Home poised to clean up more than a few awards, Broadway has another major lesbian storyline happening just a few blocks away at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. It Shoulda Been You, with music by Barbara Anselmi and book/lyrics by Brian Hargrove, is a classic feel-good kind of musical. The comedy borders on madcap, the characters are broad but terrifically likable, and the music melodic.
Actor David Hyde Pierce makes his Broadway directorial debut with It Shoulda Been You and it’s certainly a combination I wouldn’t mind seeing again. Sometimes actors make the best directors, finding moments that may be overlooked by those who are not used to putting themselves in their performer’s shoes.
Not that Pierce doesn’t have it going for him in the way of casting. Tyne Daly, a beloved actresses of both the stage and screen (and my personal favorite Mama Rose), commands attention anytime she steps into the room, and just has a ball with her character. She plays Judy Steinberg, the mother of the bride Rebecca (one of Broadway’s most capable and complex ingenues, Sierra Boggess) and sister of the bride Jenny (the excellent Lisa Howard finally getting her chance to shine). When Judy’s not criticizing Jenny for her lack of male prospects and plus size figure, she’s sparring with another respected theater and televisoin actress, Harriet Harris (of Desperate Housewives fame), who plays the groom’s passive aggressive mother Georgette.
In a lot of ways, It Shoulda Been You shouldn’t be as likable as it is. The music is nice but not particularly memorable and, in many ways, the plot is predictable—until it most definitely isn’t. If you don’t want to know the major spoiler of the show, look away now!
After much madcappery, false starts, ex-boyfriends showing up to stop the wedding, and nearly brawling mother in laws, Rebecca and Brian (David Burtka) do get hitched a little over halfway through. However, it’s right after the ceremony that we discover the truth about their situation. Rebecca is in big gay love with her Maid of Honor, Annie (the wonderful Montego Glover) and likewise for Brian and his Best Man Greg (an energetic Nick Spangler). They all kiss their true loves, only to be discovered by a totally confused and bewildered Jenny and the wedding planner Albert (stellar character actor Edward Hibbert).
While Val and I knew something queer was heading our way, the audience was in complete shock at the reveal. The rest of the musical is about why Rebecca and Brian went through with the charade in the first place. (This is the only part in the musical that I cringed a little, as it seemed a little too tropey.) However, the characters rise above the debacle, especially when Rebecca sings a beautiful ballad about why she needs to come out, called “A Little Bit Less Than.” It’s not hokey; it’s just honest and true, and Sierra Boggess nails the piece with sensitivity and her signature soaring soprano.
“If they don’t ask, and you don’t tell, they miss the best of you
When you deny part of your life, you risk the rest of you
Sure you could pass, keep up the show, but deep down you know it’s time to end it.
But you know the longer you wait, the harder it gets. So try to stick to the plan.
Be true to yourself, you’ll have no regrets, don’t be afraid that they’ll think,
you’re just a little bit less than.”
There is something so familiar yet fresh about It Shoulda Been You, and part of its charm is, indeed, this big secret and ultimate coming clean about Rebecca’s sexuality. Classic and modern all at once—not only for its queer and progressive content, but the fact that its completely charming and fantastic leading lady is not your typical ingenue. She’s over 30, overweight, and totally over playing second fiddle to her younger sister. Yet, unlike most musicals, she gets the guy, her sister gets the girl, and we all get the happiest of endings.
Val and I turned to each other at the end of the show, and both confessed to smiling so hard our cheeks hurt. That’s something special. It’s not the easy route of a jukebox musical that seems to be dominating the Broadway scene, cashing in on familiar songs and eager tourist dollars. It’s a story about family, love and acceptance with so much heart, it’s amazing the stage could contain it all.