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IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU at O’Connell (Park School) is community theater at its best

THE BASICS:  IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU, the musical by Brian Hargrove and Barbara Anselmi, presented by O’Connell & Company, directed by Roger Paolini, starring Joey Bucheker, Todd Fuller, Gregory Gjurich, Bill Group, Adam Hayes, Sara Kovacsi, Pamela Rose Mangus, Mattthew Mooney, Mary Kate O’Connell, Emily Pici, Heather Reed, Rebecca Runge, and Dan Urtz runs through February 26, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m. at The Park School, 4625 Harlem Road, Snyder (848-0800). Plenty of parking. Wine, water, soda, chips, cookies available. Take a few extra dollars for the raffle baskets and end-of-show donation to Applause for Hope where funds will go to Carly’s Club in support of pediatric cancer research at Roswell Park. Run time about two hours with one 15-minute intermission. www.oconnellandcompany.com

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Weddings. People drink who shouldn’t; people make speeches who shouldn’t; people get married who shouldn’t. And that includes Catholic Brian Howard and Jewish Rebecca Steinberg although they do have their own compelling reasons to tie the knot (part of the surprise/reveal towards the end of the show). In fast paced action and quick scene changes we have the battling mothers of the bride and groom, the best friends, the old flame who shows up, the wedding planner, thirteen actors playing fifteen roles, including the still-single, chubby older sister trying to keep it all together, “it all” meaning the wedding, her sanity, and, in the end, her happiness.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This is a perfect O’Connell and Company vehicle, slightly saucy but family friendly, with enough star power on stage to balance out any weak spots, and certainly on a topic – marriage –  to which everyone can relate. And, in 2017 as we recognize single sex marriage, interest in mixed-religion marriages, at least in a progressive state such as New York, might seem a little like yesterday’s news, but I can tell you that a number of my Jewish friends still enjoy playing the role of “outsider” for comic effect. So, as the saying goes, “it never gets old.”

This is a fun show. Is it Broadway? No, neither the material (which didn’t get great reviews on the Great White Way) nor the performances, but there are enough stand-outs to keep you talking in the car on the way home. Most of those came from our “veteran” (I didn’t say old, I said “veteran”) actors – O’Connell, Gjurich, Bucheker, and Mangus.

Without a doubt, Mary Kate O’Connell as Georgette Howard, the alcoholic mother of the groom, absolutely nails the role, for the most part just sitting down with a glass of gin in her hand. She had always hoped that her son would be gay, and a companion in her old age, but here he is committing in marriage to another woman. And she’s a Jew named Steinberg. “Is that STYNE or STEEN? Why can you people decide?” Her signature line (in homage to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche): “Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us drink.”

Other stand out performers include Gregory Gjurich, first as Walt, the somewhat fussy and clueless wedding planner’s assistant, and then, very convincingly as the stumbling Uncle Morty. The Walt character was vintage Gjurich, who plays “put upon” better than anyone (and I’m talking Robin Williams or Nathan Lane caliber). But if I didn’t have the program to refer to, I never would have known he was also Uncle Morty.

(Not a “veteran” but very clever in creating two roles is Emily Pici as the unobtrusive second wedding planner assistant who magically morphs into sex-starved Aunt Sheila. Nicely done.)

And, while Joey Bucheker in other roles might be a bit much/over the top at times, he is just wonderful as the wedding planner and his on-stage nemesis, Pamela Rose Mangus, as the dreaded MOTB (mother of the bride). You’ve heard of Bridezillas. Wait until you meet Mrs. Judy Steinberg.

You’ve heard of Bridezillas. Wait until you meet Mrs. Judy Steinberg.

And, too young to be called “veteran,” certainly Sara Kovacsi, as Jenny Steinberg, the heavy set always a bridesmaid never a bride older sister, is the “lead” of the show. She has the opening number, her dramatic arc is the through line of the musical, she is the strongest singer, and while other performances delight, hers will stay with you long after the car ride home. She has “it,” that ability to draw an audience in and so her sorrows are our sorrows and her triumphs are our triumphs.

Truly, all of the cast is good doing what supporting roles do, which is be part of a smooth ensemble. And this happens for the whole evening. So props to Director Roger Paolini. He was Drama Director at Williamsville South H.S. for thirty-five years, which is probably why he casts so well, why the scenes are well thought out, and why this production is so enjoyable. You can’t direct kids without knowing exactly what the story is that you want to tell and how each role helps move the story forward. This is not art theater; it’s not “black box” theater. As the headline says, this is “community theater at its best.”

And a quick bravo to Paul Bostaph for the very serviceable set. The stage at The Park School has its challenges which Bostaph overcomes and expertly conveys the look and feel of “hotel wedding.”

Note: When you go, it’s open seating, and you might hear better on the right-hand side of the audience, since the band and their amplified speaker, on your left, can drown out some of the actor’s lines.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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