A cell phone rang during It Shoulda Been You. Normally, this is beyond irritating. Don’t people pay the slightest mind to pre-show reminders about unwrapping hard candies and powering down their Androids? But in this instance the ringing was a welcome distraction from the doings on stage at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
Alas, my relief was short-lived. That ringing mobile was actually part of the show, an excruciating piece of business that is set in a hotel and, apparently, in the second decade of the 21st century. But there’s good reason to check and re-check the calendar; It Shoulda Been You chronicles the tsuris of two sets of parents, the very Jewish Steinbergs and the very WASPy Howards, who are dealing – horrors – with the imminent nuptials of their children.
The challenges of inter-religious marriage made for a fertile topic for drama in the 1920s, maybe even a daring one. Witness the stunning success of Abie’s Irish Rose, which ran for more than five years, was immortalized by Lorenz Hart in the song “Manhattan” and inspired a radio show, to say nothing of the controversial 1970s television series Bridget Loves Bernie. But now it really does seem a bit old hat – or perhaps more to the point, old yarmulke.
In Shoulda it’s the bride, Rebecca (Sierra Boggess), who’s Jewish. Meanwhile, the white-bread groom, Brian (David Burthka), is hell-bent on assimilation. Somebody on the creative team clearly thinks there’s nothing funnier than a shegetz’s futile attempts to master Yiddish and that there’s nothing more shocking than … oh, wait, I’d hate to spoil the show’s only surprise.
The blandly jaunty score and witless lyrics do nothing to aid the cause. It certainly doesn’t help that the characters are solid state stereotypes. Thus, the mother of the bride, Judy Steinberg (Tyne Daly), is a kvetching bulldozer. Her husband (Chip Zien) is henpecked. The gentile mother of the groom (Harriet Harris) drinks too much. The father of the groom (George Howard) is emotionally aloof. And the wedding planner (Edward Hibbert) is unflappable and fey. These terrific actors, along with Lisa Howard as Rebecca’s overweight and under-appreciated sister, Jenny, and the hard-working director David Hyde Pierce (this show is something of a Frasier reunion), all deserve so much better. But of course, as wedding vows remind us, we never know how things are going to go. With It Shoulda Been You, it’s definitely for worse.