An interfaith wedding gone awry is the current proceeding taking place on the Segal Centre for Performing Arts main stage this summer. After the success of last season’s The Producers, the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre company continues its mission to dramatize the Jewish experience in presenting its latest spectacle, a first-rate adaptation of the 2015 Broadway musical comedy It Shoulda Been You. Under the direction of Jim White and musical direction of Nick Burgess, the production makes its Canadian and World Yiddish Premiere at the Segal from June 4 to 25, 2017.
Book writer and lyricist Brian Hargrove and composer Barbara Anselmi have here taken a premise familiar to many rom-coms – that of lovers and families of different backgrounds uniting – to fashion a merry musical satire of matrimony mishaps. A Jewish bride marries a Christian groom, the older sister feels left out, the in-laws feud, and an ex-boyfriend walks into the seemingly picture-perfect portrait to send the nuptial affair off the rails. It’s lively, whimsical, and wholly entertaining – only if for the rationale that weddings just seem to bring out the best and worst in people.
At a first glance, the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre tops itself in producing one of the most exquisitely decorated shows we’ve been privileged enough to experience to date. Set designer Marjolaine Provençale has spawned a most idyllic scene for a ceremony of everlasting love, complete with lush upholstery in a palatial palette of pale pinks and pastels. Paired with costume designer Louise Bourret’s luxurious suits and gowns (each gleaming get-up is more sublime than the next), the spectacle is a full feast for the eyes.
Ah, yes, it should be addressed that It Shoulda Been You is here partially performed in Yiddish (the non-Jewish characters in the narrative speak and sing in their native English), but after having seen the original 2015 Broadway version, dare we say we rather prefer it this way. The Yiddish only further heightens the folly of it all, even if attempting to keep one eye at the heart of the action and the other on the supertitles proves exasperatingly dizzying at times. The show is as accessible as the language of music is universal.
Even if dressed to the nines, perchance Shoulda Been coulda been sharper on certain fronts: Anselmi’s up-tempo showtunes are sprightly, but no particular melody lingers for long in the memory. Hargrove’s intermissionless book is harmless fun, but we often feel as if we’re going down an all-too familiar aisle with a dated plot, predictable antics, and characters and situations that seem somewhat contrived, caricatured, and formulaic (e.g. overbearing Jewish mother, gay wedding planner, heavy-drinking relatives). The big mid-act twist makes it slightly less run-of-the-mill, but even then it still presents itself as head-scratchingly implausible.
However, there is little to fault in DWYT’s production of the show itself; that it nonetheless manages to be remarkably enjoyable is perhaps a testament to the local talent on and off stage. The vanilla source material is elevated by a flavourful cast of 15 principal players and 9 ensemble members – the latter being a most welcome addition to the original Broadway cast size of 13 (even if we had hoped for more heavily choreographed numbers as a result).
Rosie Callaghan with her ethereal vocal chops here stands out as Jenny Steinberg, the emotional heart of the comedy. Her powerhouse but vulnerable rendition of “Beautiful/Vunder Sheyn” grounds It Should Been You with meaning beneath the madness. (On the delicate subject matter of casting, however, we respectfully feel the production team missed an opportunity here by not recruiting an older, fuller-figured actress for the role, as Jenny was written to be. In effect, the character’s weighty, overarching message on body image loses certain shreds of potency.)
Some of the best material is reserved for the two mothers of the newlyweds-to-be, played by Joanne Cutler (Mrs. Howard) and Karen Karpman (Mrs. Steinberg); “Where Did I Go Wrong?” and “That’s Family” are among the uncontested highlights of the night. Other notable performances include those of returning DWYT actors Naomi Krajden as the high-strung, altar-bound Rebecca and Mikey Samra as her party-crashing, ex-lover Marty – the former for her more subdued acting accompanied by polished vocals and the latter for his endearing expressiveness and likeable quality.
Feelings of “something borrowed” aside, It Shoulda Been You is meritorious for ringing a loud and proud bell for marriage equality and self-acceptance in the face of prejudice. (A heartwarming discovery that gave us pause was learning that cast members and real-life partners Justin Muniz – who plays Rebecca’s fiancé, Howard – and Mike Melino – who portrays Howard’s best man, Greg – just days ago became engaged on the Segal stage after one of the performances; the phenomenon puts the show into rather enlightening perspective.)
As one audience member shrewdly noted during the talk-back, “it’ll be hard for any wedding I attend from now on to top this!” I like my cake, but a good-humoured, big-hearted, high-spirited musical affair appeases to the senses just as well.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon
The Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre presents “It Shoulda Been You”
When: June 4 – June 25, 2017
Where: The Segal Centre for Performing Arts (5170 chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine, Montréal, H3W 1M7)
Admission: $45 – $60. Group, Senior, Student, Under 30 discounts available. Subject to availability.
Box Office: 514.739.7944 | www.segalcentre.org
Presented In Yiddish with French and English supertitles
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes, no intermission
Book and Lyrics by BRIAN HARGROVE
Music and Concept by BARBARA ANSELMI
Translation of Yiddish Book and Lyrics by ARON GONSHOR & EDIT KUPER
DWYT Artistic Director BRYNA WASSERMAN
Director and Choreographer JIM WHITE
Music Director NICK BURGESS
Set Designer MARJOLAINE PROVENÇAL
Costume Designer LOUISE BOURRET
Lighting Designer LUC PRAIRIE
Head of Sound PETER BALOV
Stage Manager ISABEL FAIA
Assistant Stage Managers STEPHEN ALARIE & ALLIE GREENLEAF
Assistant to the Director and Dance Captain NAOMI KRAJDEN
(in alphabetical order)
AMANDA BENN – Ensemble
ROSIE CALLAGHAN – Jenny Steinberg
MOISHE CAMPBELL – Walt
JOANNE CUTLER – Georgette Howard
CRAIG DALLEY – Ensemble
PAULA WOLFMAN FRANK – Ensemble
KAREN KARPMAN – Judy Steinberg
BETTY KIS MARER – Mimsy
NAOMI KRAJDEN – Rebecca Steinberg
JORDANA KUJAVSKY – Ensemble
HANNAH LECOUSY – Ensemble
SAMANTHA LEVY – Ensemble
CHERYL-ANN LILIETH – Annie Sheps
NICOLAS MANCUSO – Ensemble
MIKE MELINO – Greg Madison
SAM MELNICK – Ensemble
MERV MIDDLING – George Howard
JUSTIN MUNIZ – Brian Howard
KARYN PELLATT-CARON – Aunt Sheila
MARC-ANDRÉ POULIN – Albert
MIKEY SAMRA – Marty Kaufman
SAM STEIN – Murray Steinberg
MÉLANIE THOMPSON – Ensemble
STAN UNGER – Uncle Morty
NICK BURGESS – Band Leader / Piano
DANIEL FUCHS – Violin
BETH MCKENNA – Reed
CLAIRE DEVLIN – Reed
ZOU ZOU ROBIDOUX – Cello
MIKE DE MASI – Bass
PARKER BERT – Drums / Percussion