Music: Barbara Anselmi
Book &Lyrics: Brian Hargrove
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Many times in the past perfectly good musicals have failed for no discernible reason. It Shoulda Been You sadly only lasted 135 performances (after previews) but the probable source of its downfall is extremely apparent on this original soundtrack recording that has just been released. However let’s start with the positives, of which there are many.
Weddings are a rich source of farce and comedy and this musical clearly mines that vein for all its worth. Mismatched families the Steinbergs (Jewish New Yorkers on the cusp of caricature) and the Howards (WASP-ish prudes) are forced together by the marriage of their daughter and son. The expected doubts and arguments ensue before a relatively happy ending. So far, so every movie featuring a wedding that you have ever seen. There is even an over-looked ‘plain’ girl, an effete wedding planner, a geriatric uncle, a man-hungry aunt and the mother of the groom is a raging (comedy) alcoholic. If all of this seems depressingly cliché, fortunately most of the people involved have enough talent to raise such rote situations and characters well above the crowd. It’s a little like The Drowsy Chaperone but without the post-modern references and deliberate cheesiness.
Brian Hargrove’s lyrics (and the snippets of his script that also feature on this CD) are quiet simply superb. From witty barbs and deadpan Jewish one-liners to genuinely moving and soulful expressions of longing and regret, his words sparkle in a way that is rarely seen these days. Modern lyricists feel that they need to be overly clever with their vocabulary or over-the-top with their style. Hargrove’s lyrics are sincere and hold genuine wit and warmth, making them refreshingly old-fashioned.
The cast assembled for what seems such a minor piece is astonishingly high-class, which is probably testament to Hargrove’s script and his husband David Hyde Pierce’s presence as director. Broadway royalty Tyne Daly (remember Cagney and Lacey?) dominates as mother of the bride Judy and gets to deliver most of the best lines and lyrics. Her song What They Never Tell You is a lovely lament to parenthood that Daly sells completely, and her delivery of the title number (aimed at her daughter’s ex-boyfriend that the whole family preferred to the actual groom) with her husband Murray (Chip Zien) and other relatives is a masterclass in comic delivery. Daly’s performance is perfectly complimented by Harriet Harris as Georgette, the groom’s drunken mother who has a way with a witty putdown as much as she is out of touch with the real world. Her song Where Did I Go Wrong is a highlight.
The wonderful Sierra Boggess as the bride Rebecca makes her usual fantastic impression with her songs but is rather wasted in what amounts (at least on the soundtrack) to a supporting part. The central rôle is taken by Lisa Howard as Rebecca’s overlooked sister Jenny and she is more than equal to the surrounding Broadway Royalty, as are the rest of the cast including the ever dependable Edward Hibbert as wedding planner Albert.
But where this show fails is with Barbara Anselmi’s score. For a project featuring such talented performers and amazing lyrics, Anselmi’s music never raises above the level of ‘bland’. Ballads that should soar, wilt. Numbers that should dazzle, fizzle. And comic songs that should amuse, bore. It is real testament to Hargrove’s lyrics that they can be noticed and shine over such uninspiring music and there isn’t a single tune in the entire score that has a noticeable hook or could be hummed even after hearing them multiple times. Spirited performances and witty lyrics are here in spades, but the music proves that no matter how hard you try, you can’t spin gold out of straw.
Like a perfectly made wedding cake that then has its icing replaced with toothpaste, the music here taints the entire endeavour. This is a genuine shame because the rest of the ingredients are absolutely delicious.