IF I had not loved Next to Normal so much, THEN I would not have seen If/Then. IF I had not seen this show, THEN I would have missed out on hearing this amazing score sung live.
Somehow I waited a year to finally get to Broadway to see Next to Normal when it was running, but fell in love instantly. Saw it twice and even got the chance to play the dad in a production in New Jersey. Like many others, I was anxiously awaiting this new musical by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey. I have to say kudos to these two for continuing to offer original musicals in a sea of movie-based shows. And where they shine is in telling a story through song. Personally, I think they shine so much in that area that this score would make for an amazing song cycle like Songs for A New World or Elegies. Each song feels like a lesson song that stands alone. Had I seen these songs performed at 54 Below, I would have left feeling uplifted and renewed as I dissected my own life choices.
This cast sings and belts their faces off lead by the incredible Idina Menzel. But they are all wonderful musicians and do it with such ease that you can't believe they are all singing in the stratosphere so much. Each song made me think of a moment in my own life where I chose a different path. I thought about the life I might have had if I'd taken the international tour of Man of La Mancha I was offered in the early 90s instead of staying in New York and ending up in Corporate America. Two completely different things. I even recently shared about taking different paths for those choosing college or deciding another road. For me - those are big and different choices.
While I thought the premise of If/Then is interesting (we follow one woman's journey through several years of her life if she had taken two different paths), the stakes never felt high enough for me. The concept was unique (if you haven't seen the film "Sliding Doors"). The character of Elizabeth goes by Liz and Beth and at times switching back and forth in the middle of a scene, but all the time Ms. Menzel's somewhat trademark "this is me, folks…love me" attitude shines through no matter which character she is playing. She is surrounded by a group of friends and we get to see how their lives also change in each setting (yet somehow, no matter the choice made - they are all still there). And really - the two lives are not so drastically different. One of my largest issues with the two worlds is the relationship between Ms. Menzel and the character played by James Snyder. Every musical needs a good love story and somehow, I wasn't buying into the relationship set up between these two. (I'm not sure if that was the writer's or director's doing - but the 'meeting' of the two lacked a certain spark to set the theme of fate in motion.)
I love so many of the performers in this show and have seen them in numerous productions. I've seen LaChanze in four different Broadway shows and have always been
captivated by her. It is wonderful to see Anthony Rapp back on stage with Idina Menzel (once again, chasing his Maureen around) and to hear his voice. And I always want to see more and more of Jenn Colella (I'll go on the record as saying I'd love to hear her sing the role of Elizabeth). So I wanted to love what they were doing on stage. But unfortunately, what they were doing wasn't as compelling as what they were singing. Intermission came and I really didn't care about any of the characters I was watching. Michael Greif is a director that is in love with sets utilizing levels and if I were to be completely honest, I felt I was seeing things on stage that I'd see from a college or community production. People making pointless crosses upstage so we'd remember we are outside in New York where people are always walking by. I actually became so annoyed by the choreography that I let out an audible 'ugh' when they returned at the very end to do their strange moves once again. And both my theater companion and I felt the show could have been cut. While Act II raises the stakes more than the first, themes started to repeat and I was longing for something new.
With all of this said, I still am thankful for an original musical being produced. But I think perhaps the reason we are seeing so many movies turned into musicals is because many of them already have a heightened plot built in. This one rode the line of a cross between a Lifetime Movie and an episode of <insert witty New York-centered TV show that spends much time bashing other parts of the country>.
But the Idina/Adele Dazeem fans will keep this show going as long as she is in it - if we judge by the shrills and screams at her entrance and the end of the show. All in all, I'll definitely be buying the cast album once it comes out. So something new and wonderful has come from my evening at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. If I had to sit through a night just to come out with that, then I am grateful.