Wednesday, April 9, 2014
If/Then at the Richard Rodgers Theatre
What a difference a pair of eyeglasses make!
It's a bit more complicated than that, but suffice it to say, the creators of the new Broadway musical If/Then used their tryout in Washington DC and the subsequent months prior to their opening to fix the major problems with the structure of their work. When the show premiered out of town it needed a lot of work. If/Then Pre-Broadway Engagement at the National Theatre. The creative team of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, who had spectacular success with their Pulitzer-prizewinning musical Next To Normal have taken a lot of pains to make the duality of the story of If/Then more accessible to the average theatregoer.
If/Then tells the story of Elizabeth Vaughan, a 38-year-old divorcee moving back to New York City and trying to decide what to do with her life. Meeting Lucas, her best friend from college and Kate, her new neighbor across the hall, both friends offer Elizabeth a choice. From there two tales emerge: one of Liz who follows Kate in search of true love and the other of Beth who follows Lucas towards a dream job in city planning. Each story leads to different outcomes and affects not just Elizabeth's life but the lives of her friends.
There is less confused chatter at intermission about the two stories and how to tell what is going on and in what scene is in which version of the lead character's life. In the DC tryout it was primarily indicated with lighting. Here the lighting changes are still used, but there is less reliance on it. Instead, the opening song now clearly tells the audience how the play will unfold. Liz wears glasses and Beth does not. There are costumes changes, mostly jackets, to emphasize whether we are in the world of Beth's government job or Liz's romance. There is still occasional confusion. Amember of the audience audibly whispered "wait, she has two kids" in a scene in the life of the childless one.
Tom Kitt has reshaped the book to better focus on Elizabeth's life. Certain events that affected the supporting characters have been completely removed or rewritten and in the case of a life threatening event placed in a different part of the show with clarification as to the nature of the tragedy.
Brian Yorkey's music serves to move the plot forward or color Elizabeth's development over the course of the two stories arcs. You will not find a list of songs in the program. It will not surprise you that the best numbers are performed by the leading lady, Idina Menzel. The role of Elizabeth is formidable. Not only is Ms. Menzel portraying two different versions of her character, she gives both Liz and Beth a rich emotional stage life particularly in such songs as "Learn To Live Without" which feature both characters.
Ms. Menzel is given ample support by Anthony Rapp as her fluidly sexual best friend Lucas. His "Ain't No Man Manehatten" is an upbeat love letter to the City and its Boroughs in the middle of Act One and his "You Don't Need To Love Me" is heartbreaking. LaChanze is vibrant as Kate, the no-nonsense believer in destiny, belting her belief in the power of fate ("It's A Sign). In smaller roles, Jenn Colella as Anne, Kate's love interest and Jason Sam as David, Lucas' love interest in Liz's world are solid.
James Snyder as Stephen, the love of Liz's life and the one that was never met in Beth's is simply charming. He will melt your heart as he sings "Hey, Kid" to his newborn son of the hopes and fears of parenthood. Like Liz you will "I Love You, I HateYou" when a fateful moment breaks Liz's heart.
If/Then is a welcome original addition to Broadway in the midst of so many movie adaptations. It is not the perfect show, but it wins the most improved from its out-of-town tryout. Idina Menzel gives a masterful performance in a leading role that requires her to rarely leave the stage for its entire 2 hour and 35 minute running time. If/Then is a great showcase for the return of a Broadway favorite.
If/Then is being performed at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway. For tickets and other performance information please visit ifthenthemusical.com or ticketmaster.com