Regional Reviews: St. Louis
It Shoulda Been You
Also see Richard's review of Atomic
But now they've opened their 30th season with a musical that is genuinely shocking, though mainly for structural reasons: It Shoulda Been You starts out like a Borscht Belt comedy, and then goes in a completely different direction halfway through. It's surprisingly up to date after that stunning change of subjectthough, by modern standards, it still ultimately manages to be a mainstream sort of show anyway. So it's shocking and a bit predictable at the same time. And that's really the best of all possible worlds, isn't it?
Good work, Stages.
The first half this musical comedy, which appeared on Broadway a year ago, reeks of 1922's gigantic smash hit Abie's Irish Rose, though the critics famously hated that one. Here, a Jewish family and a nominally Protestant one are settling in to a good old-fashioned "culture-clash" marriage between an impossibly beautiful young lady and her very handsome and wealthy young swain.
But then there's this neck-snapping plot twist, right in the middle, which (sorry) I can't tell you about. In a way, it's just a big gimmick too, updating the whole genre, but it seems to work extremely well in this production, with a mom and pop audience. There are a lot of laughs, and lots of heart-felt songs too.
It's still a culture clash and still a love story, so in that sense it's also still Abie's Irish Rose. But suddenly, very unexpectedly, it cantilevers out into a different kind of culture clash, with much more modern jokes and very thoughtful, touching, "reaching understanding" momentsincluding a lovely plea from the perfect bride, played by Stacie Bono.
I was going to say that in the end it's really "about" the bride's sister, played by the very likable Claire Manship (as Jenny), but I'm not sure that's entirely the case. You could even say it's about the mothers-in-law to be, with a splendidly funny Jewish mother played by the beloved Zoe Vonder Haar. Chameleonic Kari Ely is equally great playing opposite as the prototypical country club mom in a slightly smaller role. Ms. Vonder Haar is the real star of the show, although Ms. Ely unfurls great comedic gifts as her adversary, going into battle in the midst of some nicely done wedding-day freak outs.
But in the long run, It Shoulda Been You is probably more about the art of gag writing and also a very nice triumph in the realm of the highly exacting structural demands of musical comedy. It grows into a big casino of comedy, set in the familiar "they're not like us" milieu, thanks to Brian Hargrove (book and lyrics) and Barbara Anselmi (music and concept). And it moves apace, with Stephen Bourneuf directing.But seriously, when will critics ever stop being angry about that pandering, almost idiotic Abie's Irish Rose, and what a smash hit it really was in spite of them? This show is ten times smarter, and funnier in at least five more ways.
Through July 3, 2016, at the Kirkwood Recreation Center, 111 South Geyer. There is no intermission. For more information visit www.stagesstlouis.org
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association