If/Then is exactly the type of show that makes me glad I’m a subscriber to the KeyBank Broadway series. If I had to buy a single ticket to it…I probably wouldn’t. Not because I had zero interest, but because it’s really easy to think of reasons to not leave the house and not spend money on theater tickets, especially in Cleveland in February, and especially when the show in question was somewhat coolly received by critics and generally overlooked by awards. But boy am I glad I saw it. I found the production smart, tuneful, and quite entertaining. Here are 5 things I loved about If/Then:
- Despite If/Then being the definition of ponderous, everyone in it has a lot of fun. And I don’t mean “ponderous” as an insult, it’s simply a fact that the characters spend a lot of time asking “What if?” I mean, that’s the title of the opening number. And some pretty dark shit happens to them. But the production finds a joy and energy in asking the question and dealing with the answers.
- It wasn’t at all confusing. In this musical, a young woman is presented with two seemingly innocuous choices (get coffee with a new friend or meet housing activists with an old friend), and we see the divergent ways in which her life plays out as she goes down each path. The musical goes back and forth between parallel stories giving “Elizabeth” only enough time to put on/remove glasses to differentiate between “Liz” (she gets coffee with the new friend and falls in love, though is less career driven) and “Beth” (she meets the activists and has a wildly successful career…and an equally unsuccessful love life). Not only is this all perfectly clear as it plays out, the production has a lot of fun with the transitions and connections between the Liz and Beth’s plot lines.
- It works against expectations. It’s a musical about youngish people in NYC trying to discover who they are and what they want–and no one is an artist! Serious career-driven Beth doesn’t wear glasses–Liz, the fun one, does! There’s racial diversity! There is a bisexual character whose interest in both men and women is taken seriously. Even its choice of Madison Square Park as a recurring meeting place is unconventional. Who even remembers Madison Square Park exists? I sure don’t, and I worked half a block away for three years!
- The ensemble. There wasn’t a huge chorus–basically enough to play an assortment of bit parts and cover the principals–but their presence added a sense of movement to the evening and helped expand the scale of many of the numbers. And they had some great vocal arrangements.
- The SANGING. This musical seems to operate under the philosophy that the audience’s investment in a character is directly proportionate to the amount of belting done by said character. This philosophy is not wrong, and suffice it to say I was VERY invested in most of the characters. Jackie Burns sings her face off approximately every 7 minutes and it is pretty thrilling. This may have originally been a bespoke Idina role, but it’s Ms. Burns’ now, so bow down. In the role of “new best friend”, Tamyra Gray doesn’t have the best material, but is strong voice and is a natural and commanding actress. Janine DiVita is very winning (and underused) as Gray’s love interest. Their Act 2 duet, “Love While You Can” is definitely the evening’s non-Jackie-Burns musical highlight. In the second most demanding role, Anthony Rapp sounds as good as any Rent fan would want him to.
If/Then. Director – Michael Greif. Music – Tom Kitt. Book/Lyrics – Brian Yorkey. Choreographer – Larry Keigwin.