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If/Then.Richard Rodgers Theatre (see Broadway). Music by Tom Kitt. Book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey. Directed by Michael Greif. With Idina Menzel, James Snyder, LaChanze, Anthony Rapp, Jenn Colella, Jerry Dixon. Running time: 2hrs 35mins. One intermission.
If/Then: In brief
Beloved diva Idina Menzel (Wicked) returns to Broadway in a new musical by the makers of Next to Normal. Menzel plays a fortyish woman whose life is followed along two parallel tracks in the classic "what might have been" scenario. Michael Greif, her old partner on Rent, directs.
If/Then: Theater review by David Cote
There is—there can only be—one Idina Menzel. She of the armor-piercing vibrato and earworming ratio of nasal to breathy. The Wickedpower belter—inviting and untouchable—is what every little girl and boy glued to Glee wants to be when they grow up, and even if she only gigs on the Great White Way every 6.3 years (on average), she’s still the multiplatform avatar of the Broadway star. They broke the mold with Menzel, which is why the idea of her playing two versions of herself in If/Then intrigues. She portrays a single woman whose forking life-paths are presented in alternating scenes. In If/Then’s conceit (also used in Sliding Doors), Elizabeth (Menzel) gets split into Liz, who pursues love at the expense of a career, and Beth, who lands the fancy job but misses romance.
Why, you ask—sensing antifeminist boorishness from a mostly male creative team—can’t Elizabeth have both? Just wait, kids: That’s the fun of watching book writer and lyricist Brian Yorkey and composer Tom Kitt puzzle out their time-braiding premise.
If you’re getting Sondheim hot flashes—Merrily We Roll Along for its retrospective rue and Company for insights into urban singledom—you know where If/Then lives. It’s a smart, contemporary piece for adults. It doesn’t condescend—to its sympathetic and fallible same-sex couples, or to an Army reservist (James Snyder) for whom Liz falls.
Menzel imbues her character with maximum pluck and vulnerabilty. But for all the charisma of the lead and ensemble, Kitt’s score blurs into similar-sounding midtempo pop ballads. Menzel carries the show but can’t force us to care about Liz/Beth’s average life choices. People are just too darn nice in If/Then’s world. We need more bitchery and satire, more injustice for our hero to fight against, to inspire an anthem as thrilling (if as slick) as “Let It Go.” Otherwise, we get a Choose Your Own Adventure that’s not really venturesome.
THE BOTTOM LINE Menzel sings a song of fate in this smart but underwhelming musical.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote