If my math proves correct, it takes one big happy family to make one big miserable wedding party in It Shoulda Been You, a determined little clown-car of a musical that pulled into the Brooks Atkinson Theatre April 14, positively bulging with talent.
That happy faction is The Family of Theatre — 13 of the hardest-working actors in the biz, who know how to spike a line and finesse a laugh.
Even before the curtain went up, a palpable esprit de corps had spread to the lobby. Bold-faced first-nighters arrived, unabashedly, like friends and fans of the cast.
It Shoulda Been You, With Tyne Daly and Sierra Boggess, Opens on Broadway; Red Carpet Arrivals, Curtain Call and Cast Party
In one case, actual family showed: Neil Patrick Harris, the Tony-winning Hedwig, in turn-about support of husband David Burtka, the groom of this occasion. "I couldn't be happier for him," he said. "He deserves it so much and was great support for me." Burtka was last on Broadway in the 2003 Gypsy when, then, all he needed was the girl. "All I just needed was the song and dance," he amended. "I'm so grateful to be able to go to work every day, and the group of people I work with is amazing."
On stage, in lieu of Montagues and Capulets, we have WASPs and Jews, creating considerable comic combustion in a book by Brian Hargrove that he and Barbara Anselmi set to music. When the original director, Casey Nicholaw, was sidetracked by something called The Book of Mormon, he was replaced by another husband – Hargrove's: the erstwhile award-winning actor and gamely debuting director, David Hyde Pierce. Reportedly without whip and chair, he whipped the cast into shape.
"Mainly, I just let them go about their business," the newbie director dirt-kicked. "Not only are they talented actors, they're all interested in working together – not just out there for themselves. That's my aesthetic as well so I appreciated that."
He even organized volleyball games for them periodically to assure that they played well on stage, according to Sierra Boggess, the show's bride who sported a bruise on her leg from the experience – and considered it a badge of honor. "We have many war wounds, but it was worth it because we learned how to bond with each other."
Boggess' teacher in Master Class and her mom here, Tyne Daly, blusters and pushes her way through the proceedings, eventually crossing swords with her opposite number, the groom's mom played with panache to spare by Harriet Harris. Their exquisite thrust-and-parry is what happens when two old pros deliciously collide.
"Harriet," admitted Daly, "makes me laugh out loud—I have to suppress—and has the most startling blue eyes of any human being I've ever met. We have a good time."
Josh Grisetti, who was Broadway bound with the Broadway Bound that folded in tech, makes his overdue Main Stem debut, arriving as a member of the audience and racing to disrupt the wedding. Rest assured, he'll be back. At his first opening-night curtain call, he cleverly, instinctively, flung an extra bridal bouquet to the audience.
"You know what? There's nobody on that stage who doesn't have that same instinct," he said. "That's what I love about this cast. They're so inspirational. I want to be just like them one day. There's not a single sour grape in the bunch."
Lisa Howard, who scores a quiet coup of her own as the bride's big sis, loved the company she keeps: "There's a lot of strong personalities in that room, but, because David's at the helm, there's a terrific working environment. There's no upstaging." Chip Zien, Montego Glover, Nick Spangler, Adam Heller and Anna L. Nathan have moments, too.
Scripter Hargrove is deliberately democratic in sharing the wealth of his characters. "I got that from a famous television director named Jimmy Bellows. He did The Man Who Came to Dinner in Chicago and learned that actors with one or two lines deserve a moment they can look forward to every night, when they come to the theatre. And it was important to me to do that with our cast so each of them feels they have something special."
Edward Hibbert, who specializes in stealing scenes from all-star clambakes like Curtains and The Drowsy Chaperone, could be brought up on charges for his work here as the haughty wedding-planner. And Harris is comparably deft at throwing away zingers that sting, although she doesn't feel particular favoritism from the writer. "I think Brian was very good with everyone," she contended. "Everybody has something lovely to do, some moment where they shine, and I really like that."
Not for nothing is the last (and best) song in the show called "That's Family." Said the father of the groom, Michael X. Martin, "We're like family, and that's what the show's about. David Hyde Pierce, our fearless leader, nurtured that since Day One."