Richard Rodgers Theatre
226 W. 46th St. (Broadway/8th Ave.)
Lead Cast: Idina Menzel (Elizabeth), LaChanze (Kate), Anthony Rapp (Lucas), James Snyder (Josh), Jenn Colella (Anne), Jason Tam (David)
In a Nutshell: Neither the critics nor the Tony nominating committee were kind to If/Then. Variety called it a “smaller-than-life show” with “flaccid” music. The NY Daily News deemed it a “platitude- and cliché-clogged work.” And the show was nominated for only 2 Tonys (Best Actress in a Musical and Best Original Score; it didn’t win either. It was overlooked for Best Musical). The only aspect of the show that was universally praised was Broadway powerhouse Idina Menzel’s performance.
So, when I settled into my seat at the Richard Rodgers Theatre I wasn’t expecting much. I figured the show would be mediocre at best, but that the price of my discounted TDF ticket would be worth the opportunity to hear the magnificent Ms. Menzel. Imagine my surprise when I found myself enjoying the show from the very beginning!
From the moment Idina Menzel takes the stage, until almost the end, the show is engaging and beautifully staged. Menzel’s first line, spoken on the telephone, but seemingly directed at her many fans in the audience) is, “Hi, it’s me.” While the show is overly long at 2 hours, 35 minutes, and while the plot is sometimes confusing, the bottom line is that If/Then is a very enjoyable, original, interesting modern musical with excellent performances by the entire cast (not just Idina; LaChanze, a former Tony winner, is exuberant as Elizabeth’s lesbian friend Kate).
The Plot: OK, this isn’t easy to explain. Basically, it’s the idea of “the road not taken.” If you’ve seen the film Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow, you’ll have an easier time figuring it out. (That film explores the 2 possible life paths determined by whether Gwyneth’s character gets on a train or misses it). Elizabeth (Ms. Menzel) is a newly divorced urban planner who has left her unfulfilling life in Phoenix behind to explore her next chapter in New York City. But what will that new life be? Will it be as Liz, a down to earth woman who marries and has 2 children with a handsome Army doctor named Josh? Or will she become Beth, a single, ambitious career woman who becomes pregnant by her best friend Lucas (who is gay), and has an abortion?
As the play progresses, we see both potential lives played out, side by side, with Liz/Beth surrounded by the same group of friends in both scenarios. To help us differentiate between the two sides of Elizabeth, Liz wears glasses. Sometimes it’s not clear who is who. But really, it doesn’t matter. I just sat back and enjoyed the music, lyrics, performances, and interesting set design. If you overthink If/Then you’ll wear yourself out.
In the prologue, Elizabeth sings “What If?” which outlines the idea of the multiple possibilities. Other musical standouts are the touching “You Learn to Live Without” and Menzel’s 11:00 belter, “Always Starting Over.”
Should You Go? Yes! We don’t have many really original musicals on Broadway, and I think this show has been underappreciated. I believed all of the bad news about it and may skipped it had I not been able to snag a discounted ticket (thank you, TDF). The show is frequently available at the Times Square TKTS booth.
Idina Menzel is a sensational, one-of-a-kind Broadway star. I have seen all of the Tony-nominated Best Actress performances this season, except for Jessie Mueller’s (she won for her performance in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, beating out Menzel). So, I can’t judge, but I have a feeling Menzel was robbed. The Rodgers is a large theatre (with over 1300 seats) and nearly every one was filled at the Tuesday evening performance I attended. If/Then is definitely a hit with the public, if not the critics.
Trivia: If/Then reunites Menzel with her director (Michael Greif) and co-star (Anthony Rapp) from the original 1996 Broadway production of Rent.
Menzel already has a Tony for her performance as the green, misunderstood Elphaba in Wicked.
Parents of young children have probably heard Menzel’s stunning rendition of “Let It Go” from the Disney movie Frozen more times than they can comfortably admit.
Menzel received worldwide publicity when John Travolta hysterically mangled her name on the Oscar telecast, famously introducing her as “Adele Dazeem.”
If/Then music, lyrics, and book are by the Pulitzer Prize-winning team from Next to Normal, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey.