Tessa Roy ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor
If/Then’s heroine is Elizabeth (Menzel), who moves to New York City seeking a fresh start after a divorce. She’s an intelligent and confident woman, but has an identity crisis upon running into her old friends Kate (LaChanze) and Lucas (Rapp). Bubbly kindergarten teacher Kate insists she must be “Liz,” while rabble-rousing housing activist Lucas thinks “Beth” suits her better. The show then splits into two plot lines. Liz winds up in a teaching job she doesn’t love, but with a doting husband and two children while Beth goes in the opposite direction, staying (somewhat) single and leading a life as a city planner.
There is a LOT going on in If/Then, and it is often confusing. It’s difficult to remember that Beth and Liz are not different characters; they are both Elizabeth, but are potential representations of what her life would look like depending on the path she chooses to take. Or is it the direction in which fate points her? It’s hard to tell. If/Then has audiences questioning not only which life Elizabeth will live, but also whether any of her actions are truly her own. Some will appreciate the philosophy lesson, but others might find themselves a little overwhelmed by the constant guessing game.
That certainly doesn’t mean the show is without strong points. The stunning set is always active, mirroring the fast-paced lifestyle of New York City. Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey did well with the music, which has an emotional range that reflects those of the characters. It’s optimistic in the trademark “Here I Go,” curious in “Some Other Me,” and heartbreaking in “Learn to Live Without.” The songs are well written, and excellently showcase the vocal talents of each cast member.
Speaking of which, the cast is incredibly lovable. James Snyder offers a heartfelt performance as Josh, Liz’s hunky army husband. He and Menzel have a chemistry that feels genuine. Jenn Colella and LaChanze serve up some comic relief as Anne and Kate, a couple slightly reminiscent of Rent’s Maureen and Joanne. And obviously, it feels so right to see Anthony Rapp sharing the stage with Menzel again. He does well portraying the antics of Lucas, Elizabeth’s longtime friend with whom she has a complicated relationship, yet loves for his loyalty anyway.
It’s undeniable, though, that Menzel is made to be the standout (the part was written for her, after all). But honestly – is that really problematic? She’s highly talented, and audiences have been chomping at the bit for the past decade waiting for her Broadway return. It makes sense for her to have ample stage time, which is exactly what she is given. Menzel spends nearly the entirety of If/Then onstage, belting her heart out like the powerhouse she is. Her goosebump-inducing delivery of “Always Starting Over,” the final power ballad, is arguably the best song in the show. However, her humorous “What the F-ck?” is a close second (yes – Idina Menzel says f-ck and it is glorious). It’s the stark differences between these two numbers that shows how dynamic a performer Menzel really is. She’s emotional, smart, vulnerable, and most importantly, herself. It’s evident she – and the audience – knows that the stage is truly her home.
If/Then is currently on an open run. Be sure to catch it at the Richard Rodgers Theater over the summer.