Full review: If/Then

by Lynn on April 25, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Music by Tom Kitt
Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Directed by Michael Greif
Choreographed by Larry Keigwin
Set by Mark Wendland
Costumes by Emily Rebholz
Lighting by Kenneth Posner
Sound by Brian Ronan
Projection Design by Peter Nigrini and Dan Scully
Cast: Jackie Burns
Mark Delacruz
Janine DiVita
Tamyra Gray
Daren A. Herbert
Matthew Hydzik
Anthony Rapp

A musical for our times about thirty-somethings who are busy, concerned, insecure and self-absorbed, that is loud and relentless.

The Story. Elizabeth frets about everything. She has just made a huge decision to leave her husband of twelve years where they lived in Phoenix, and return to her home town of New York City and begin her life again. She looks at things that happen to her from all sides and wonders and ponders and imagines, what if. She just happens to be in the park, waiting for a friend when she meets a soldier, home on leave. She also meets Lucas, an old friend from college, in the park as well. So many possibilities. Elizabeth thinks, what if….she was an hour later to the park, then something else would have happened and she wonders about that too.

In fact there are three men in Elizabeth’s life: Josh, the soldier, who is also a doctor; Lucas her college friend who is a social activist, and Stephen an up and coming bureaucrat in the Mayor’s office in New York who wants Elizabeth to work with him as a city planner. She goes through every story in every iteration using the phrase if/then (If this happens then that is the result). So each variation on a relationship and happening is repeated three times.

Lucas is gay, an activist and loves Elizabeth. But he also loves David, a doctor. Stephen is smitten with Elizabeth but he’s married, but he’s tempted. etc. They worry that they are not shaping up. They sing about it in every conceivable way.

All the characters are well-meaning and want to do good deeds. They are conflicted by relationships and love. They fret. They worry that they are not shaping up.

The Production. It’s a musical for our times in that every feeling is dissected, examined, explained, revealed and repeated in the clever lyrics (and book) by Brian Yorkey and a score by Tom Kitt that is relentless in its throbbing, pulsing sameness. (Interesting that, since the same duo wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Next To Normal about a woman battling depression.)

And why is the music so loud? It’s so over-amplified that you can hardly make out the lyrics—I heard that more than once from patrons at my performance. Yorkey worked hard writing the lyrics; shouldn’t we actually be able to make them out without having our ears burst?

Michael Greif’s staging is a swirl of constant movement, whether it’s Mark Wendland’s set, or the characters rushing from one crisis to another, or a chorus who flip and dance in the background. (Choreography by Larry Keigwin). What is this penchant for set pieces that always have to be moving, or rising, or sliding? Is this supposed to give us a sense of the frantic activity of New York? Tiresome.

The cast is made up of a group of accomplished New York/Broadway actors/singers. Jackie Burns as Elizabeth has pipes like a steel rod and nails those high notes with confidence. She sings with ease and anguish as Elizabeth and has good acting chops. Anthony Rapp as Lucas has a lock on that insecure, shy, awkward character who is always the girl’s best friend but that’s it. And when he meets the man of his dreams, he’s still unsure. Matthew Hydzik is strong-voiced and charming as Josh. He is sensitive, decisive and patient, the man of Elizabeth’s dreams?

Comment. If/Then is a musical that wants to be about something serious—people trying to get through life with all sorts of choices that have to be dealt with, in which problems are looked at from every conceivable position. At one point Elizabeth looks at an indecisive character and says, “Make a decision.” The same can be said of her.

Frankly I found If/Then relentless in its determination to be about something important. And the loudness gave me a headache.

Presented by Mirvish Productions.

From: April 12, 2016.
To: May 8, 2016.
Cast: 15; 8 men, 7 women.
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.


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