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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
IF/THEN
at the Richard Rodgers

DIVIDED LIVES
By MATT WINDMAN

  Idina Menzel and James Snyder/ Ph: Joan Marcus

As one of the few new musicals not based on a familiar film or pop song catalogue (or anything else for that matter), If/Then certainly is a breath of fresh air. And in spite of nagging issues with its overall concept and divided storylines, it is a smart, romantic piece with a well-crafted soft rock score and great performances all around.

It also functions as a dynamic and demanding star vehicle for Idina Menzel (a.k.a. Adele Dazeem of Frozen fame), who has not appeared in a Broadway musical since her high-flying, Tony-winning turn in Wicked. She is joined by many other strong musical theater performers, including Anthony Rapp (Menzel’s Rent co-star), LaChanze (Tony winner for The Color Purple), James Snyder (Cry-Baby) and Jenn Colella (High Fidelity).

Menzel plays Elizabeth, a city planner in her late 30s who moves to New York to restart her life. In the style of the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow flick Sliding Doors, a seemingly mundane decision leads to two vastly different paths of life, one that is marriage and family-oriented and the other consumed by career advancement.

Unlike most original musicals that play Broadway, If/Then did not originate at an Off-Broadway or regional not-for-profit theater. It received an old-fashioned out-of-town engagement in Washington, DC in the fall but was always aimed for Broadway, even before a single review was released. Cheers to producer David Stone for his confidence in the property.

The musical constantly switches back and forth between the parallel versions of Elizabeth’s life. Even with color-coded lighting to help guide the audience, the convoluted structure can be confusing, clunky and disruptive. By comparison, the parallel lives of Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors are more clearly coded by her hairstyle. I couldn’t help but think that If/Then might work better if the first act contained only one version of her life while the second act was devoted entirely to the other.

If/Then never quite captures the intensity or urgency of Next to Normal, also written by composer Tom Kitt and lyricist-book writer Brian Yorkey, but it effectively explores the instability of contemporary urban life for middle-aged adults and offers an abundance of melodic anthems.

Menzel, who is hardly ever offstage, shows off her powerhouse vocal abilities while also conveying vulnerability whenever possible. It will no doubt be a challenge for her to handle this role eight times a week. Rapp adds a scruffy, warm presence as Elizabeth’s bisexual best friend, and LaChanze lights up scene after scene with verve.  

Stylishly directed by Michael Greif on a sleek set containing a massive tilting mirror, If/Then may not be a triumph but it is contemplative, heartfelt and fashionable in a sanitized sort of way. And in light of Menzel’s growing fan base, it could be a hit. 

 


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