Filichia Features: It Shoulda Been You Lives On

Filichia Features: It Shoulda Been You Lives On

Who was the original Petra in A Little Night Music before she left the show in Boston? In what atypical city did Love Match – a Maltby-Shire musical about Queen Victoria – have its world premiere? What label would have recorded Prettybelle had it come to New York and run even a little while?

Thursday at six in Langan’s Pub & Restaurant on West 47th Street you’ll find a table filled with musical theater enthusiasts who can easily tell you the answers. (Garn Stephens, Phoenix and Metromedia, in case you can’t make it.)

And why, you ask, do I bring this up? To stress that earlier this year, these expert aficionados all agreed on something else: It Shoulda Been You scored a bull’s eye on every target it aimed to hit. It was a fine artistic success that fully deserved to run and run.

To a man (and one woman), we all agreed that this original musical would bring a great deal of pleasure to a vast number of people. Never mind what some critics and nominating committees thought; It Shoulda Been You, we insist, shoulda been appreciated for the audience pleaser that it was.

Michael Hamilton and Jack Lane aren’t part of our group, but only because the former is the artistic director and the latter the executive producer of Stages St. Louis. An 870-mile, three-hour flight each way wouldn’t give them much time to talk shop with us, let alone finish Langan’s specialty: Shepherd’s Pie (which presumably isn’t peppered with actual shepherd on top).

But Hamilton and Lane have already proved their theatrical mettle and savvy by deciding to open their 2016 season with It Shoulda Been You. I’ll gladly predict that it will be a box-office smash and that their theatergoers, after applauding wildly at the curtain call, will exit saying “I loved it!” after they catch their collective breaths from laughing so much.

I suspect this will happen at your theater too when you produce It Shoulda Been You.

To be sure, bookwriter-lyricist Brian Hargrove’s set-up seems overly familiar: Jewish girl – Rebecca Steinberg – is marrying Catholic boy – Brian Howard. All four parents have myriad opinions about the wedding and – need we add? -- the reception.

In this corner, we have Judy and Murray Steinberg, the parents of the bride, and in that one we have George and Georgette Howard, who represent the groom. As they say in sports, “These two teams don’t like each other.”

The only one keeping cool is Rebecca’s sister Jenny, although this day isn’t easy for her. After all, she’s the older sibling, so her parents naturally assumed that she’d “go first.”

“But a wedding is a great place to meet men,” Judy tells her. “I’m sure you’ll have your own wedding one day.” This is not what Jenny wants to hear, but it’s better than the fat-shaming that Judy often employs.

Yes, Judy often tartly says what’s on her mind. So when she promises Jenny, Rebecca and the latter’s good friend Annie that “I’m just going to be my usual self today,” the three others shriek out a “No!”

Luckily, Tyne Daly, who originated the role, ameliorated each zinger with her trademark smile, easily one of the most endearing in show business. Make certain that your Judy can do the same.

In the face of such criticism over her weight, Jenny shows excellent self-esteem. She believes that she’s “sorta pretty, kinda sexy.” But she’s got a sense of humor about herself, too. Just one look at the dress she’s asked to wear causes her to remark “I wouldn’t fit into this if I were cremated.”

John Waters has often said one of the most fulfilling aspects of seeing his film HAIRSPRAY turned into a musical is that a heavy-set teen girl will now get a leading role in her high school musical. It Shoulda Been You offers a similar opportunity for older plus-sized actresses who can play “thirty-two-ish and Jewish.”

Daly, you’ll recall, won a Tony for portraying Rose in Gypsy, so she’s no stranger to strong-willed mothers. But Harriet Harris was awarded a Tony, too, for playing a supposedly motherly (but hardly maternal) character in Thoroughly Modern Millie. So if you need proof that Judy and Georgette are great roles for mature actresses, just ask yourself if two Tony-winners would want these parts if they weren’t good ones.

Harris was superb as Georgette, the dipsomaniac whose lines are as dry as the martini she’d like to have right now. George tries to glad-hand her to no avail – although he fares better than Murray, who battles his wife at every turn, although he knows full well from the outset that he’ll never win.

And then there’s Albert, the wedding planner, which is a delicious part for an actor who can play fussy and pseudo-obsequious. Also on the scene is Marty Kaufman, Rebecca’s old beau who shows up to stop the nuptials. If you think that Judy and Murray want him ousted, you’re wrong; they’d prefer him to be their son-in-law. “It shoulda been you,” they insist (as do meddlesome Uncle Morty and Aunt Sheila).

Jenny isn’t as pleased with Marty. He’s been her good friend since childhood, so why didn’t he call to tell her that he and Rebecca broke up? But what’s really bothering Jenny? Is it that the now-free Marty might choose someone else – someone thin -- as his girlfriend/fiancée/wife?

Hargrove short-circuits the clichés by offering a twist: Rebecca and Brian never planned to marry. She’s in love with Annie and he’s crazy for his best man Greg, and the whole wedding is a ruse to keep the parents quiet and get presents and inheritances. Judy, Murray and George need some time to adjust to the turn of events, but Georgette always felt that Brian was gay and is glad that he’ll now be in a relationship that will better suit him.

This theatrical curve-ball may not amuse ultra-conservatives. But the Broadway performance I caught (my third visit to the show) was during the height of tourist season, and out-of-towners roared with delight when the truth was revealed.

They also went with Hargrove when he dispensed with the hi-octane jokes and introduced plenty of heart, soul and feeling. What started out as a gagfest turned into a genuinely emotional experience. Barbara Anselmi’s music serves Hargrove’s lyrics well and is right for the characters. Jenny gets a great second-act aria, which you already know if you saw Lisa Howard knock out the Tony attendees at this year’s broadcast.

For costumes, you’ll need formal finery, including two wedding dresses. (Did I just give something away? And I don’t mean the bride.) Anyone who’s been a bridesmaid or maid-of-honor is always told the great canard that “You’ll wear that dress again.” IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU can make the lie into a reality.

So if the show is this splendid, why couldn’t it last more than a mere five months on Broadway? In addition to the withheld admiration from critics and committee, there was a unit set.

Oh, set designer Anna Louizos did as well as she could with the budget she was given, but every Broadway musical that uses a one-size-fits-all set does itself a disservice. Louizos provided a hotel lobby, although so much of the action took place in specific rooms. One scene, in fact, occurred in a ladies room where important information was overheard by women inside the stalls. Alas, you’d have never assumed from the doors hastily brought onto the unit set that they were anything but regular doors leading to regular rooms.

Theatergoers need to know where they are as soon as a scene starts, but those who attended It Shoulda Been You often didn’t get their bearings until the scene was nearly over. So while employing a unit set may seem cost-effective, it winds up a false economy. If theatergoers get lost while watching a show, the money used to produce the show will be lost, too.

You needn’t do a production where you lug on one heavy realistic set after another. Let low-cost projections do the work for you. Had It Shoulda Been You used this option, it might still be on Broadway.

For the show winds up saying that dreams can come true, which many of the best musicals do. Because almost every character goes home happy, so will most every theatergoer.

As a result, I prophesize that St. Louis will be just the start of a healthy international career for It Shoulda Been You. St. Maarten’s, Saint Augustine, Santa Monica, San Francisco and other blessed places won’t be far behind. Just include in your budget enough money for a bouquet that can be thrown into the audience at every performance’s curtain call.

You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at, Tuesday at and Friday at His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at