By Christopher Heide
What if? How would my life be different if I had made a different choice in my past? These are the kind of deep, introspective questions at the center of If/Then, the new hit musical taking Broadway by storm. If/Then is urgent, breathtaking and deeply personal in its thematic choices.
You see, If/Then is a portrait of alternate existences; a tale of roads taken or not, if only different choices had been made. The show itself explores the two possible outcomes of a singular choice that the main character, Elizabeth (Idina Menzel), makes early in the first act. Elizabeth is a smart and sassy heroine, someone who is easy to root for. The show grapples the with concepts of fate and freewill, exploring how they impact the major moments in life. It’s an extremely relevant construct, something that is emotionally impacting to the audience. Every facet of this metaphor is explored in full, which provides a sincere feeling of closure by shows end. Having a relatable theme is a huge asset for a show that boast dual storylines, something that is, at times, hard to follow.
The emotional landscape of the show is bright and beautiful for the majority of the show. Although the musicality of the score is eerily similar to Rent, the storyline is more optimistic and hopeful.The score is lush and frenetic, with many songs bleeding together in an almost breakneck stream of consciousness. Rarely is there a break in the flow of the story, with the dual storylines weaving in and out of each other. Interestingly, neither of the individual storylines are particularly interesting. Magic is created through the contrasting highs and heartbreaks explored between the two. It is an instance where the sum is greater than the parts.
As expected, Menzel is brilliant in her characterization of Elizabeth. She handles the dual roles with beautiful nuance, something only a truly seasoned pro could accomplish. Menzel is on stage for pretty much the entire show, with the majority of power ballads being thrown her way. Her true diva moment comes late in the second act of the show with her showstopping rendition of “Always Starting Over”. It is a spectacular moment in the show; Menzel, alone on stage, belting a heartbreaking song about loss and hope. It's a jaw-dropping moment. I’d predict that this song will likely be added to the diva’s repertoire, along the lines of “Defying Gravity” and “Let It Go”. Case in point, Menzel really is the pinnacle of this star studded show.
The entire cast of If/Then is remarkably strong, boasting such Broadway veterans as LaChanze and Anthony Rapp. With an enigmatic score, biting dialogue stunning scenery and a masterclass cast, it's no wonder why if then has become such a hit. See it here in Seattle while you still can!