Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Almost everyone has wondered what might have happened if they'd made a different decision in their past. Would their life end up better or worse based on that choice? If/Then shows the results of different decisions in one woman's life. What happens when Menzel's character Elizabeth, who has just returned to New York City after living in Phoenix for the past ten years and suffering through a divorce, decides to stay in a park and listen to music with her new friend Kate instead of going to a protest with her college friend Lucas? In one story, based on missing a phone call about a dream job, she ends up finding love, while in the other, having taken the phone call, she ends up following her professional calling but sacrificing romance. Using mainly just a pair of glasses to signify when she is Liz (wearing the glasses), who meets the Army doctor Josh who has just returned from overseas, and when she is Beth (not wearing the glasses), who takes a high level job working for New York's urban development projects, the plot moves back and forth from one storyline to the next.
Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, the duo who won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Awards for Next to Normal, have crafted an interesting and original story, though it does get somewhat confusing and convoluted. The powerful songs are delivered well, especially by Menzel and LaChanze, who plays Kate, with several songs creatively playing out across both storylines. While the book and score are intriguing with several catchy numbers, the power ballads wear thin after awhile and a few of the songs are completely forgettable. Also, the fact that in one story the character of Lucas, played by Anthony Rapp, is gay, while in the other he is straight, seems to be a plot device that is completely unrealistic (why would a decision that Elizabeth makes change the sexuality of another character in her life?). This does give Rapp two different characters to play, but why doesn't LaChanze get two different characters to play as well? It just doesn't make sense or ring true. However, the ending has a quite effective pay-off that fortunately isn't a cop-out.
Menzel's earthy voice and intense focus on her character(s) work well to elevate the story into one where you care for her and the other people in the lives of Liz and Beth. LaChanze is a firecracker of sass and spunk, with a voice like Menzel's that soars to the rafters and beyond, while Rapp and James Snyder, who plays Josh, add some well needed lightness to the somewhat overwrought plots. All four created these parts in the original production and the connection they have with each other, and knowledge of their roles, is clearly apparent in their rich portrayals.
Director Michael Greif ingeniously stages the action on Mark Wendland's almost constantly moving set design to swiftly move from Liz's story to Beth's and back again, with large video screen projections on the back wall that clearly set the locales of each scene. The entire Broadway creative team have re-created their designs for the tour, with Emily Rebholz's costumes providing fun and funky New YOrk styles and Kenneth Posner's lighting lush and rich. Only Larry Keigwin's choreography is a bit unfocused and even pretentious, with stylized, jerky and unrealistic movement at times.
While the end result of If/Then may be somewhat confusing, the powerhouse vocals of Menzel and the addition of her Broadway co-stars on the tour make this an intriguing journey to take. It will also most likely give you plenty to talk about afterwardseven if it is just trying to clarify the various plot points with your fellow, and most likely slightly confused, theatregoers.
Menzel, LaChanze, and Snyder are set to finish playing these characters after the Costa Mesa stop on the tour, which runs January 19th to January 24th, while Rapp will continue on for the rest of the tour.
If/Then runs through January 17th, 2016, at ASU Gammage located at 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information about the tour, visit www.ifthenthemusical.com.
Brian Yorkey: Book and Lyrics