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It Shoulda Been You
Book and Lyrics by Brian Hargrove, Music and Lyrics by Barbara Anselmi
Directed and Choreographed by Stephen Bourneuf
STAGES St. Louis
April 8, 2016

Claire Manship Photo by Peter Wochniak STAGES St. Louis

Claire Manship
Photo by Peter Wochniak
STAGES St. Louis

STAGES has invited its audience to a wedding. In the first regional production of the recent Broadway musical It Shoulda Been You, theatregoers will witness a happy event that’s filled with music, humor, drama, and plenty of surprises. At STAGES, it’s an entertaining, energetic production highlighted by an extremely strong cast, and particularly in the leading role.

Set at an upscale New York hotel, It Shoulda Been You introduces us first of all to Jenny Steinberg (Claire Manship), who is preparing to serve as co-Maid of Honor in the wedding of her sister Rebecca (Stacie Bono) to Brian Howard (Jeff Sears). Jenny is the “dependable daughter”, always supportive and helpful but being constantly compared to the younger, slimmer, more popular Rebecca, especially by their mother Judy (Zoe Vonder Haar), who frequently expresses her concern that Jenny will never marry. Jenny is also caught in the middle of the drama that ensues when Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend Marty (Zal Owen) arrives presumably to stop the wedding. There are also parental objections concerning the Jewish Rebecca’s marrying Brian, who is Catholic, and tensions between Judy and husband Murray (Michael Marotta) and Brian’s somewhat stuffy parents George (David Schmittou) and Georgette (Kari Ely). Add the Best Man Greg (Eric Keiser), the other co-Maid of Honor Annie (Jessie Hooker), the crazy relatives including the man-hunting Aunt Sheila (Morgan Amiel Faulkner) and confused Uncle Morty (John Flack) to the mix, and much humor and drama will ensue. The proceedings are presided over by an extremely organized, near-psychic wedding planner, Albert (Edward Junger) and his assistants Walt (Steve Isom) and Mimsy (Michele Burdette Elmore), as the wedding day’s events just get more and more convoluted.

There’s not much I can say in detail about the plot without spoiling too much, since much of the drama depends on the element of surprise.  A general theme, however, is one of identity and self-acceptance, as Jenny wrestles with family expectations and body image issues, and other characters deal with their own secrets and concerns about acceptance from those around them. Several of the plots do become fairly predictable as the story goes on, but the entertainment value is still there even if you can guess where the story is going. The music is pleasant, with a few memorable songs, especially the hilarious “Albert’s Turn”, the show-stopping “Jenny’s Blues” (which is a tour-de-force for Manship), and the sweet “Whatever”.

The cast is ideally chosen, led by Manship in a winning performance as the kind but underappreciated Jenny. She and Vonder Haar’s loving but critical Judy are the stand-outs in this strong ensemble, along with Juvier in a masterful comic performance as the hyper-competent Albert. There are also strong performances from Owen as the charming Marty, Ely and Schmittou as the Howards, Marotta as the loving father Murray, and Bono as the conflicted Rebecca, Keiser as the talkative Greg, and Faulkner as the gleefully gosssipy Aunt Sheila. Everyone makes the most of their roles, as well, in this cast with no weak links and excellent ensemble staging.

The staging and choreography by Stephen Boureuf are lively and energetic, and James Wolk’s set is sumptuously well-appointed. The hotel setting is well-realized, with occasional set pieces brought in when needed as the story takes its cast to the hotel’s hair salon, ladies room, and more. Gareth Dunbar’s costumes are richly detailed and colorful, suitably suggesting the festive upscale wedding style. There’s also excellent lighting by Sean M. Savoie to set and maintain the mood of the show.

Overall, though, It Shoulda Been You is an outstanding showcase for Manship. She makes the most of her starring role, bringing lots of energy and a great voice, and it’s Jenny’s story that is the most convincing even when there are some unbelievable elements. Overall, this is a sweet, funny and heartwarming show about love and acceptance, with a somewhat predicable script but with a great cast. It’s a memorable opening production for STAGES’ new season.

Cast of It Shoulda Been You Photo by Peter Wochniak STAGES St. Louis

Cast of It Shoulda Been You
Photo by Peter Wochniak
STAGES St. Louis

STAGES St. Louis’s production of It Shoulda Been You is running at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in Kirkwood until July 3, 2016.

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