IT Shoulda Been You, a new(ish) musical comedy by Barbara Anselmi and Brian Hargrove, is currently enjoying what could well be its English premiere in the intimate setting of Cooper Hall, Frome.
Originally performed on Broadway in 2015, where it was nominated for no fewer than twelve awards, this production was very nearly a UK premiere but was pipped to the post by a company at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.
A delight from start to finish, Kairos Theatre Company’s production is a real triumph. As the advance publicity tells us, It Shoulda Been You invites us to a wedding day we’ll never forget, where anything that can go wrong does and love pops up in mysterious places.
The bride is Jewish, the groom is Catholic. Her mother is a force of nature, his mother is a tempest in a cocktail shaker. And when the bride’s ex-boyfriend crashes the party, the perfect wedding starts to unravel faster than we can whistle Here Comes the Bride!
The characters are, almost inevitably, stereotypes of course, but far from being two-dimensional cut-outs, this talented company, in the very capable hands of director Anne Dimery – and what an eye for detail she has – imbued them all with real lives. It was this, together with the ever-changing pattern of relationships, that kept us hooked from start to finish. Indeed, there was so much to enjoy that it is difficult to do the production anything like justice and I challenge anyone to predict all the twists and turns, particularly those in the unforgettable moments shortly before half time!
As musical director, James Finbow superlative piano playing kept the show running seamlessly. Supportive but never obtrusive his accompaniments were a constant joy. The score contains several memorable songs too, all of which were put across with considerable feeling, clarity and conviction, and one wonders why many of them are not better known. Greg (Ryan Hughes) and Annie’s (Daisy Mercedes) duet Love You Til The Day You Die which opened Act II for example was an absolute show-stopper, as indeed was Leonie Macaslin’s heartfelt rendition of Jenny’s Blues (in which she clearly has every intention of getting a little bit of something on the side) which followed. I also really loved the father-and-son song Back in the Day, most ably executed by Matthew Baker and Ed Henderson (as the father of the groom and the groom himself).
The choreography here, as indeed elsewhere, was a significant strength of the show. In fact, the movement and use of space generally was very well handled – the limitations of a venue I suspect designed primarily as a concert hall actually being exploited to great effect.
Overseeing events and clearly relishing every minute of the mayhem, whilst at the same time attempting to keep things running smoothly, was Albert (Dave Merritt) the wedding planner, or “nuptial Houdini” as he is referred to in one of the songs. Tracey Rawlins as Judy, mother of the bride and Claudia Pepler as Georgette, mother of the groom, were a splendid double act – the expressions and sense of comic timing of both were faultless, while the developing (and disintegrating) rapport between the bride, Rebecca (Amy Maughan) and her sister was also superbly conveyed. Graeme Barry as Murray, father of the bride and Steve Waterfield as Marty, Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend, were equally well portrayed. The latter’s duet with Jenny when they sing of their growing up together was most poignant, while the scene towards the end of Act I when he leaves through the audience only to re-appear again stage right, singing the while, was as clever and as effective a bit of staging as one could hope to see.
In the cameo role of Aunt Sheila, who clearly likes anything in pants, Sophie Ball was terrific, while it was left to David Hynds as Uncle Morty to deliver what was probably the show’s best one-liner. (But you’ll need to see the show and find out what this was for yourself!)
It Shoulda Been You is a great show, a genuinely funny piece of ensemble theatre. For more information, phone 01373 455420/471854 or visit the website, www.cheeseandgrain.com