By: Sandi Durell
When Elizabeth (Idina Menzel), an urban planner, leaves Phoenix after a divorce to make her way back to New York, she is faced with ongoing decisions. At the age of 38, she needs to start over and although she appears to be bright, clever with unlimited abilities, and oft times touchy, she constantly questions the what ifs presented to her. This musical journey is confusing, especially to Liz or Beth, as she is referred to by each of two friends whom she meets the very first day back.
There’s Lucas (Anthony Rapp), who spends his time as an activist taking everything too seriously. He’s a college buddy with whom she had a short affair at Vassar, and is in love with Beth but he’s also a conflicted homosexual. Kate (LaChanze) is an earthy lesbian schoolteacher who is breezy, light, taking life in her stride, and refers to Elizabeth as Liz. Kate is in love with Anne (Jenn Colella) and they eventually marry.
The songs written by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (who wrote the book), the team responsible for “Next to Normal,” enhance the confusion for Beth/Liz as Menzel’s piercing high belt (sometimes over the top) soars, giving pause to how she earned her huge fan base and reputation as Elphaba in “Wicked” and more fame as Adele Nazeem thanks to John Travolta! She is a Broadway diva who has returned to the stage after a long hiatus. The songs seem to become a blur that sound similar in content such as “Some Other Me,” “What Would You Do,” “What If?,” “You Never Know.” But they all wind up down that road one takes, or doesn’t.
Should she aim for that big career path as Beth or let her heart lead the way to romance as Liz? To quote some lyrics: You lose all the choices you don’t get to make. You wonder about all the turns you don’t take.
Along her journey, that morphs from scene to scene, she is offered a chance at a major career path from a friend Stephen (Jerry Dixon) who later flashes as a possible love interest, but she also serendipitously meets a good looking Army doctor Josh (lush singing James Snyder) with whom she falls in love. Lucas, too, meets his mate David (Jason Tam).
The shiny aseptic environment created surely doesn’t look anything like the New York City we know and the use of a large overhead turning mirror (think Busby Berkley old movies) is an interesting way to create supplementary action (set design Mark Wendland).
Menzel and Rapp met in “Rent” where they cut their teeth as youngsters and it’s great seeing them together on stage under the finely tuned direction of Michael Greif.
Without a doubt, Idina Menzel has unlimited vocal and emotional power that unleashes in this duality of character and has made many people very happy, although I question why she used this as her vehicle to return to Broadway.
The concept of “If/Then” is surely not an easy one to present to audiences who might become bored following the puzzle that unfolds for Beth/Liz as she moves along life’s path/paths.
Richard Rodgers Theater, 226 West 46th Street, NYC 877-250-2929, ifthenthemusical.com Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes.
Photos: Joan Marcus