As many times as it has been done on television, in stories and on the big screen, it has never been done on stage. What is it that I speak of? Observing where a character’s life goes in either direction based on two different responses to a seemingly simple, yet life-altering decision.
Writers Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, who won Tony accolades in 2010 and a Pulitzer for their play Next to Normal, set out to see if indeed such a tale could be presented without all of the effects television and Hollywood provide.
If/Then, an original musical, stars Idina Menzel (Tony award winner for best actress in Wicked in 2004) as Elizabeth, who nearing the age of 40 returns to her beloved New York City after leaving Phoenix and her ex-husband to start over.
From the very first scene, the two paths separate as she is presented with a very simple question – answer the ringing phone from an Unknown Caller, or don’t answer the phone. Each decision follows its own course, and along the way, the audience must pay very close attention. With simple visual cues for the audience: “Beth” – signified with a blue stage background and doesn’t wear glasses, and “Liz” signified with an orange stage background and wears glasses, the actress skillful weaves her way down each path – one as a city planner (read more about what inspired this career choice here) and the other a professor at a local college.
Romance and friendships, work and life collide and masterfully follow their course, and while I won’t give away how each path wraps up, to know that the writers were inspired by legendary short story writer O’Henry and his tale “Roads of Destiny” and Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist should give some indication that while we need to be the navigator of our own lives – each person who in order to achieve our dreams must take charge – chance too plays a role, often being something we can’t explain.
A very contemporary musical that brings in a wide array of social and political issues into play as each path unfolds, it is evident that the writers were aware of their audience; however, it is Elizabeth’s journey that is at the forefront – where will her life lead, where will she end up, what will she discover, will she find the love and career success she seeks?
Idina Menzel, whose voice became nationally recognized with the success of Frozen, shines on stage, and her cast holds their own as well. LaChanze who plays Elizabeth’s good friend Kate, is herself a Tony winner for Best Actress (2013 – The Color Purple), and who you might remember from her brief scene in SATC in which she plays Carrie’s taxi driver who treats her to a hot dog on the night of her book launch party.
Needless to say, to have the opportunity to be in theater while such talent is in your presence is exhilarating and something that can’t be replicated by viewing on television or listening on your iPod. Idina’s voice is moving and tremendously powerful, and I was pinching myself the entire time as I sat in Richard Roger’s theater (see below).
If you’re going to be in the NYC area at anytime during 2014, I highly recommend If/Then. Running through December 21st, show times have been extended twice due to popular demand. Click here to learn more about how to acquire tickets.
Thursday July 24, 2014