Two roads diverge in a yuppie's shoulds in this dual-track musical about choices taken and not.
What if you’d gone to a different college? Taken a different job? Given that person your number? It’s impossible to imagine the infinite divergences our lives could have taken had we made any number of different choices. Sweet and hyper-earnest, this 2014 musical from the Next to Normal team of Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt imagines two such timelines for Elizabeth (Jackie Burns), a recent divorcée newly returned to New York and determined to start a new life. The branching off point that determines whether she becomes Liz, who meets and marries dashing doctor Josh (Matthew Hydzik), or Beth, a career-driven force in city planning, is as simple as which of two friends she chooses to spend an afternoon with. Terrifying, isn’t it?
The show, directed by Michael Greif, moves back and forth between the two story lines, not unlike the movie Sliding Doors, which followed Gwyneth Paltrow down parallel roads, one in which she was a blonde and the other a brunette. The tell here is that Liz wears glasses and Beth does not; still, it’s not always immediately easy to orient ourselves in a new scene, particularly with fun-loving lesbian friend Kate (Tamyra Gray, a whirlwind of charm) and bisexual former college boyfriend Lucas (Anthony Rapp) remaining constants on both sides of Elizabeth’s life. (The show is also careful to note the butterfly effects of Liz/Beth's choices on her friends' lives.)
The score is pleasant but less distinctive than Next to Normal’s, with some of Yorkey’s lyrics tending toward clichés about making choices and moving on. Still, it’s an unexpected pleasure to see a well-done Broadway musical that’s not a period piece or in a fantasy setting, but about everyday, contemporary people living in a recognizable (if idealized) New York City. And the terrific leads make us feel for these characters. Some might say Elizabeth’s problems are too everyday—at least until Act II, when the writers start throwing a ton of capital-P Plot at both versions of her. But that’s in line with the theme of this show: You can never know what life’s going to give you, so don’t get paralyzed worrying about what might have been.
Oriental Theatre. Book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey. Music by Tom Kitt. Directed by Michael Greif. With Jackie Burns, Anthony Rapp, Tamyra Gray, Matthew Hydzik. Running time: 2hrs 45mins; one intermission.