It Shoulda Been You and a Writing Partnership Made in Whitefield

Notes from a conversation with writers Brian Hargrove and Barbara Anselmi

by Rosemary Malague (Weathervane Alumna and Director of the Theatre Arts Program at the University of Pennsylvania)

It Shoulda Been You, a Broadway musical set on a wedding day, complete with lovers, mothers, and others, will be performed on August 12thby the Weathervane Theatre Alumni. The show also happens to be the result of a Weathervane “meet cute” story, the creative “match” between composer Barbara Anselmi and book writer-lyricist Brian Hargrove. Anticipating the show’s one-day revival, Barbara and Brian laughed together as they shared their story in a phone interview.

Barbara came up with the concept for It Shoulda Been You at a moment in her life when she was attending lots of weddings. At a particularly colorful event, she was seated at a table with an engaged couple. She knew that one of them was having a secret affair with a someone at the next table. And another chair was empty because a guest stepped away for a romantic encounter with a valet! Barbara thought to herself, “What is going on at this table?” That’s when the idea came to her. “I want to write a musical about the guests at the wedding.” It Shoulda Been You began as a collection of songs, but soon realized she needed a book writer.

Brian had already had a career as an actor when he became a successful television writer—but he had always wanted to write a musical. After agreeing to return to the Weathervane to perform in the fortieth anniversary alumni show, he rehearsed his song with Barbara, who was serving as musical director. He found her funny, she enjoyed their banter—they hit it off. Brian mentioned that he wrote for TV, and Barbara thought, “Oh, he’s a writer.” Barbara mentioned working on a musical, and Brian said, “Oh, do you compose?” Based on their instant rapport, Barbara remembered, “It took every piece of restraint I had in me not to go running out of the door and say ‘Oh, I want to work with you! Here’s my demo!’” She then confided in her mother. “I met this guy tonight. I think I need to work with him.” Her mother told her, “Well, you have to ask him.” Every week she would say, “Did you talk to him yet? Did you talk to him yet?”

When the weekend of the alumni show arrived, both Barbara’s mother and Brian were staying at the Mountain View. While Barbara rehearsed nonstop, Brian wound up driving her mother around the North Country. Barbara says, “he was such a mensch, and my mother fell in love with Brian.” After the show was over, Barbara recalls that Brian came over to the piano and said, “Barb, let’s meet, let’s write something.” And she said, “Yes. Definitely!” Laughing at her own memory, Barbara said, “I’m telling you, I ran to my mother! ‘Mom! He said let’s write something!’ And my mom said, ‘Oh, that’s so good Barb!’ And she hugged me!”

Brian had been in love with musical theatre since childhood. His memory differs only slightly from Barbara’s. He remembers standing on “that big rock” outside the theatre, and saying to her, “Hey, do you want to write a musical together?” When she said yes, he was excited by the prospect. Amusing with his own self-deprecation, Brian said that after not having sung for about twenty years, he thought, “Even if I fail miserably at singing the song, at least I’ve started something!” And indeed he had.

Brian had performed at the Weathervane in 1976 and 1977, and he reflected on the unexpected role the theatre has played in his life. “Weathervane for me has always been … it’s amazing when I think of it … it’s the beginning of every career I’ve ever head. Or a lot of them. I think I became an actor at Weathervane and I met Barbara at the Weathervane so it’s been a real launching place for me.” Not having written lyrics before, Brian says, “I got all of the knowledge by just working with Barbara.” He added, “That is the essence of the collaborative process. you take it and you go, ‘okay, this works or doesn’t work, and that’s when two people are better than one in the sense that if you’re really collaborating, you’ll come up with something that pleases both.”

Barbara likened the collaborative relationship to a marriage. “I got to say, it’s so great to be in something together that you’re both thinking about and that you both contribute to. You fight and you laugh and you cry, and you share. It’s really a relationship.” Brian, continuing their banter, said, “Well it is kind of like a marriage. You get together, you do it, and then at the end you have to split your assets 50/50.” They laughed together again, evidence of their happy partnership.

(It Shoulda Been You will be performed on Sunday, August 12 at 2:00pm at the Weathervane Theatre – 389 Lancaster Road, Whitefield, NH. This special concert performance, directed by Diane DiCroce will feature Weathervane Theatre alumni Leah Hocking, Kirsti Carnahan, Laura Hall, Simon Fortin, Tim Breese, Shinnerrie Jackson, Monica Rosenblatt and other returning alumni. The performance will support the Weathervane Theatre Alumni Association. Tickets are $25. Call the box office at 603/837-9322 or purchase your tickets online at weathervanetheatre.org.)