Even if you are a diehard fan of Idina Menzel who gained stardom with her powerful set of pipes defying gravity in WICKED and infamy singing the most popular song “Let It Go” from FROZEN at this year’s Academy Award Ceremony you might have a problem sitting through three hours of her convoluted and overly complex double journey through life as Elizabeth – a 39 year old divorced woman who returns to the Big Apple from Phoenix to start anew. Make new choices, find new love and a job as a city planner. Not particularly in that order as Liz and Beth.
This might help – Liz wears glasses. Beth doesn’t. As the scenes glide by in this sleek and polished production directed by Michael Greif you might find yourself spending too much time figuring out who is who and where you are and why you having a hard time focusing as song after similar song that are not listed in the program (why?) – by the team that brought us NEXT TO NORMAL Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book & lyrics) roll by enabling Ms. Menzel to deliver those siren-like sounds that have made her famous. Sounds that send some to holding their ears as she screams to the delight of her many screaming fans.
As if there is not enough for us to ponder there are subplots aplenty. Lucas (an excellent Anthony Rapp) an ex-boyfriend and activist and now with a cute new boyfriend David (Jason Tam) and Kate (a fantastic funny and charismatic LaChanze) a gay kindergarten teacher and her mate Anne (Jenn Colella) Beth’s new boss Stephen (a fine Jerry Dixon) who has the hots for Beth but is married…and last but not least Liz’s new love Josh (James Snyder) a soldier back from his tour of duty – hale and hearty and handsome who sings like a dream that she meets by accident? Or by fate? in Madison Square Park that sets these two parallel crisscrossing stories on their seemingly endless trek.
A fork in the road of her life. Which one does she choose? We get to see both and neither one is very exciting or compelling. The stakes are not high enough – but there are plenty of high notes for Elizabeth as Liz and Beth to belt out.
Adding to the mayhem is the open set designed by Mark Wendland with turntable and huge tilted mirror hanging over the proceedings so that we see the reflection of what is on stage from a different perspective. I would have preferred CLARITY. The mirror distracts and diverts our attention that is sorely needed.
Will Liz be happy as mother to her children and wife of Josh? Or will Beth be happy with her extremely successful career? Why are all the men crazy about her? Why does she allow her friends to drive her in multiple directions? Who is the real Elizabeth?
We should be rooting for her and we do not as Idina Menzel shows little vulnerability or heart for that matter. She comes across hard and cold. But she does deliver that ear piercing voice that many love. I’d love to see what LaChanze could do with the part…
Stealing every second that she appears on stage as Paulette and others – Ryann Redmond is someone to keep your eye on.
At least IF/THEN is an original contemporary musical with lofty ambitions. Not based on a movie or novella. Nor is it a revival. Nor is it wholly successful. At the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
Photos: Joan Marcus
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