The New England Theatre Geek occasionally reviews theatre outside of our typical jurisdiction. Reviewer Kate Idlebrook attended If/Then while on vacation in The Big City.
Presented by The Richard Rodgers Theatre
Music by Tom Kitt
Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Review by Kate Idlebrook
(NYC) If you have been in the vicinity of a kid under the age of 12 in the past six months, you probably know Idina Menzel, or at least her voice. She’s the star behind the Disney phenomenon Frozen. But if you’re a Broadway aficionado, you already knew her name and have been following her since she came on the scene as Rent’s Maureen Johnson in 1995. Or, perhaps you remember her best as Wicked’s original Elphaba.
Menzel is currently putting her considerable talents into another new production and the Richard Rogers Theatre is the perfect venue to watch Idina sing her heart out. It holds only 1,319 people, but feels even smaller. Throughout the show I found myself wondering just how I had gotten lucky enough to get into this exclusive performance.
But I digress, and you came to hear a review of If/Then. Bear with me, though, because Menzel is just one of this production’s greatest draws. The show takes the premise of a girl staring over in New York City, and asks, “What happens if…?” What happens if she follows her career? What happens if she follows her heart?
For the first few songs I expected Idina’s character to run off with the free-spirited girl next door, a la Maureen. But If/Then is more than just RENT for the thirty-something set. Is there truly “No Day But Today”? Is pursuing your dream career always selling out? And how do the choices we make affect the ones we love? Elizabeth (Menzel) makes a small, everyday choice, the story lines diverge, and with the aid a pair of glasses, the action flips fairly seamlessly between the two realities.
Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics) team up to create a cast of characters you’ll want to have on speed dial and songs you’ll be singing in the shower. The cast gives their creation life. With lovely intimate moments between friends and lovers, the cast is clearly as at home with each other as their characters are. You root for each of them, not despite their flaws, but because of them.
Set Designer Mark Wendland and Light Designer Kenneth Posner develop a complicated set and lighting scheme that appears to be anything but. The center of the stage is a platform that circles around to create movement and allows the action to be center stage at all times. The minimalist set provides just enough of the framework for our imaginations to fill in the details. And a rotating mirror reflects the tiny white lights in the stage floor to create the illusion of a starry night sky.
This is truly a case of the best talent coming together to make something complex and challenging look simple and effortless. And this theatre critic’s advice is to go see If/Then now, before it becomes the phenomenon that it is destined to be and you end up at the back of a standing-room-only theatre trying to watch Idina through binoculars.