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O'Connell serves up lighthearted musical comedy

O'Connell and Company knows itself and knows its audience.

The small but energetic company excels at cheeky and romantic fare designed to appeal to the sensibilities of its core audience of suburban women and exploit the considerable talents of founder Mary Kate O'Connell.

Out of that mission has emerged the company's enjoyable if unpolished production of "It Shoulda Been You," a madcap, middlebrow musical by Barbara Anselmi and Brian Hargrove about a cross-cultural wedding gone hilariously awry. The show opened Jan. 26 in the company's cozy home in the auditorium of the Park School in Snyder.

In order to enjoy this piece, is it necessary to approach it with expectations in check. This ain't Sondheim. It's not Neil Simon. But in its highly improbable and often creaky plot points, groan-inducing lyrics and often rote musical pastiches, there is an undeniable charm to which the company's trademark enthusiasm is perfectly suited.

The show centers on a wedding between a Jewish woman (Heather Reed) and a Catholic man (Adam Hayes), into which enters all manner of cultural conflict on the part of family members. These include a meddling mother of the bride (Pam Mangus) who butts heads with the borderline-insufferable mother of the groom (O'Connell, perfectly cast), and a whole cadre of sisters and cousins and staff who enter upon a series of farcical situations borrowed from the likes of Feydeau and tinged with "Will and Grace."

Anselmi's confident and understated score, while it resorts to stylistic impressions of other musical theater composers, is often lovely. An opening number featuring the put-upon sister-of-the-bride (Sara Kovacsi) and her family sounds like Stephen Schwartz on Xanax -- though not necessarily in a bad way, if that's possible. The title song, performed by the bride's family, is a classic piece of vaudevillian comedy beautifully executed by the cast, especially Gregory Gjurich as an out-to-lunch uncle.

The book and lyrics by Hargrove are more clunky. Some sections, especially exchanges between the groom (Adam Hayes) and his parents (Todd Fuller and O'Connell) shimmer with contemporary wit. I'd quote the play's best line, but that would spoil the plot.

The production, directed by Roger Paolini, is rough around the edges. The voices of the majority of the cast are not quite up to the demands of the material, though many of them make up for it with their sheer enthusiasm. Nor is Susan Shaw's out-of-tune pit band, which sometimes had trouble sustaining a consistent tempo. These concerns are likely to dissipate with a few more performances.

What won't dissipate, however is the riotous laughter that greets O'Connell's entrance as the agitated, gin-drinking mother of the groom. It greets her again in the comedy number "Where Did I Go Wrong?", a Sondheim-soaked number in which she laments her son's abandonment of her for another woman. O'Connell owns this role, hamming it up to just the right degree and pulling out every trick of physical comedy in her impressive repertoire.

Fine performances come from Dan Urtz as a devoted family friend, Pamela Rose Mangus as the mother of the bride and especially Kovacsi whose vocal talents shine in anxiety riddled-numbers like "I Never Wanted This" and "Beautiful."

Fans of O'Connell and her esteemed company will no doubt be pleased with this piece of escapist musical comedy, which sits right in its wheelhouse and aims for the funnybone. Go in prepared for a cheeky, low-stakes ride led by an appealing, eager cast, and you will too.

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

Theater Review

★★½
"It Shoulda Been You," a musical comedy produced by O'Connell and Company in the Park School (4625 Harlem Road, Snyder), runs through Feb. 26. Tickets are $15 to $30. Call 848-0800 or visit oconnellandcompany.com.

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