I have a very vague, distant memory of the It Shoulda Been You Tony Awards performance back in 2015, though I was much too wrapped up in my rooting for Fun Home to really be paying attention. I mostly forgot that the show existed until Segal announced its production of it this season.
It Shoulda Been You tells the story of a wedding, told from the point of view of the bride’s sister, which joins together a Jewish and non-Jewish family. But first, some context.
The Segal Centre puts on a couple of Yiddish translations of English plays every season, but I hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing one until tonight. This feat of trilingualism (there were both French and English subtitles) was probably my favourite part of the production. Having never seen one of these translated plays before, I assumed it would be a straight translation, serving the act of translation rather than serving the story, but the translators integrated the Yiddish so seamlessly into the storyline, the characters, and the dialogue. The translation supports the story, and the way the characters weave in and out of different languages is a totally realistic portrayal of bilingual families.
As a choice for the Segal Centre Yiddish repertoire, this show was a total success. Musically, it’s not the most memorable of musicals, with only a few stand-out songs–and perhaps they only stood out to me because of the actors performing them. There were a couple of very strong actors with crazy singing chops, such as the two mothers (Karen Karpman and Joanne Cutler), both of them very much caricatures of the judgemental, manipulative mother figure who the audience loves to hate–and Albert (Marc-André Poulain), the wedding planner who’s a bit of a drama queen, with a big musical number to show for it.
But the star of the show, Rosie Callaghan playing Jenny Steinberg, totally blew me away, and indeed lived up to her title as the star. She’s a powerhouse, both as an actor and singer, and her two big numbers were the highlights of the show. Her emotional range is huge, covering Jenny’s insecurities about her body image and her explosion of confidence when she refuses to be walked on.
The story starts off a bit slowly, giving the illusion of a predictable family comedy, but then steers the audience off into uncharted territory. The twists and turns keep the audience members on the edge of their seats, and though most of the comedy is a bit cheap and some of the jokes fall flat, the show absolutely captured my attention for the full hour and 45 minutes of it.
Also, I always love a good audience plant.
The Segal Centre took a somewhat mediocre musical and, I believe, successfully turned it into a story about a clash of cultures and body positivity, with the trite but nonetheless important underlying moral that it’s always better to be yourself, and that a family that supports you deserves to have you in their lives.
It Shoulda Been You runs at the Segal Centre until June 25th, and you should catch it if you’re in the mood for a fun, light, short musical. Tickets are $24.50 for students, $35 for under 30’s, $54 for seniors, and $60 full price.
Image source: Segal Centre