Long before Queens-born Idina Menzel became a household name, she made her Broadway debut in the hit musical “Rent.” After that, she wowed audiences with her Tony-winning performance as the green-faced Elphaba in “Wicked.” More recently, she played Rachel’s mother on “Glee” and Queen Elsa in the movie “Frozen,” singing the Academy Award-winning song, “Let It Go.”
Finally, Menzel has returned to Broadway in “If/Then,” a musical about a woman at the crossroads of her life. After 10 years of marriage living in Phoenix, Elizabeth (Menzel) gets a divorce and moves to New York City. She must choose between two lives: one as Beth, a career-oriented urban planner with no time for a relationship or family, or Liz, a teacher, wife and mother.
In both lives, she has an outgoing friend named Kate (the delightfully effervescent LaChanze), who believes in fate, and Lucas (Anthony Rapp), a former boyfriend/college classmate.
At every possible juncture, the show presents two options, showing the audience the road not taken. However, the delineation is quite clear as to which path Beth is on and which is Liz’s.
Rapp, who co-starred with Menzel in “Rent,” is a confidant and sometimes-lover of Elizabeth. Underutilized, he plays an activist showing the counterbalance to Beth’s work for the city government. Jen Collela plays Kate’s lover and Jason Tam is Lucas’ boyfriend. Elizabeth’s choices have an effect on them as well.
“If/Then” generated great excitement as the first new musical by Tony and Pulitzer Prize winners Tomas Kitts and Brian Yorkey since “Next To Normal.” The music is good and many of the lyrics are quite clever. However, the theatrical gimmick gets old fast. How many songs does one show need about choice, chance and love? After a while, the audience glazes over, even with some predictably-tearful events. Instead of two-and-a-half hours, this show could have easily been 90 minutes.
Instead of “If/Then,” perhaps the show would have been better named “What If?” It’s just the title of one of the many songs dealing with choices, decisions and chance.
“Once every day, your life starts again.”
“If/Then” is definitely a New York play. Not only is it set in the City, but it also has some sly insider jokes. One character tells another to never let her move to Brooklyn, and the PA voice on the subway is totally unintelligible. Beth goes to a Yankee game; Liz watches the Mets.
It’s great to have Queens’ girl Idina Menzel back on Broadway. One can only wish it was a better vehicle. Only a voice like hers can make it worthwhile to sit in the cramped seats of The Richard Rogers Theatre for so long. “Wicked” fans come to hear Menzel’s glorious high notes and they are not disappointed. When she belts out her high notes- there are no “ifs” about it – it’s thrilling.