*NOTE: Since there is no song list in the Playbill, I wrote this using titles listed in other articles, so they might not be exactly correct as compared to the forthcoming cast recording. And I am going to try my best not to include many plot spoilers in my explanations.
If for no other reason than to support Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt for having the guts to write something completely original, fans of the musical theatre should be running to the Richard Rodgers Theatre to support the new musical If/Then which opened yesterday. Fortunately, there are many more reasons to get yourself to 46th Street.
|The If/Then Company|
|Lucas and David|
(Anthony Rapp and Jason Tam)
Rarer still is that the cast may just be the most diverse (without being heavy-handed about it) and true to life of any musical currently on the Rialto - the characters are straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian, single, married, liberal, conservative and broadly multicultural. Miguel Cervantes and Curtis Holbrook bring a NY bartender and a soldier to life, respectively, while Ryann Redmond provides a nice laugh as an assistant with a rather specific quirk, and Ann Sanders makes the most of the small, but pivotal role as the wife of the boss. Ms. Sanders gets the chance to show us - in microcosm - how chance and choice in our lives effect people well beyond our immediate circle of friends and co-workers.
|Stephen, Cathy and Liz|
(Dixon, Sanders and Menzel)
|Elena, Anne, Kate and Beth|
(Lawrence, Colella, La Chanze and Menzel)
|Liz and Josh|
(Idina Menzel and James Snyder)
|The If/Then Company|
As I have mentioned in reviews of other shows set in the modern day, costuming might be more difficult than it seems. Done correctly, it should do what all such designs do - convey character. But with modern dress, it also needs to look really natural - and go largely unnoticed. Emily Rebholz does all of that very well, providing the characters with a stylized New York 2014 look. She also has made it easier for the audience to know when we are looking at "Liz" or "Beth," with the simple change of a blazer and the use of eyeglasses. Similarly, lighting designer Kenneth Posner has used a color-coding system to show us which place we are in - red/orange/yellow hues for one, blues/greens for the other, with shared, moodier lighting for those convergent scenes (a lovely starry sky surrounds Elizabeth during a big epiphany; her party (ies) take place at night, etc.). Scenic designer Mark Wendland has created an impressive unit set that evokes the city with its fire escape ladders, balconies and bridges, and lush green trees surrounding it behind what appears to be glass. He has also given the audience a visual metaphor with the use of a giant overhead mirror, so that we see the parallel nature of whats going on, as well as a few well-chosen moments where the audience can see itself in the reflection as well. Spare, suggestive use of minimalist structures and a few pieces of furniture complete the look allowing for a smooth transition between the numerous scenes. Altogether, the design elements do an excellent job of helping the audience keep track of what's happening without spoon feeding, which I appreciate.
|Beth and Lucas|
(Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp)
Ultimately, as a theatre-goer who relishes shows that demand my participation and attention, If/Then hits all the right notes for me. I love shows that engage me intellectually first and then draw me in with an emotional investment. I found the first act to be enthralling and, in the balance, a somewhat harsh look at what it is to be a person of the still-new millennium - where every decision seems urgent and all important, and where, sadly, everything is a conflict between doing for "me" and doing for "everyone." Act two is all about the emotional price that must be paid for our self-indulgence and/or altruism. Wonderfully, as it should be, the show ends on an optimistic, hopeful note. I wish for us all that our lives have such hope. Admittedly, If/Then might not be for everyone; it asks a lot of its audience. And the writers have stuffed it full of ideas - perhaps a few too many. But of all the new musicals this season, this is the one that has been on my mind a full two weeks after seeing it. It has really made me think about where I am, what I am doing, and who is in my life. If the events of my life had played out the way I thought they would have, then I wouldn't have the most important people in my life in my life. Would you?
Photos by Joan Marcus