The crux of choice

‘If/Then’ questions how simple decisions affect our lives

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Joan Marcus

Thank you for choosing to
read my article. You could have chosen to read another article on another page,
but because you decided to read this one your whole day could turn out
differently than if you had just flipped the page.

It’s little choices like
these that the musical If/Then
explores: What if one simple decision can change the course of your life?

In If/Then, protagonist Elizabeth moves to New York City shortly after
ending her 10-year marriage. She comes to the city, meeting new friends and
old, looking to start a new chapter. In the opening number, Elizabeth is
presented with a choice: start fresh as Liz or as Beth. Hence, the musical
splits in two as we simultaneously follow bespectacled Liz, who soon meets her future
husband with whom she will have two kids, and Beth, a high-powered city planner
who forgoes family for career.

If/Then opened
on Broadway last year and was nominated for two Tony Awards. Mid-October, the
musical launched its national tour in Denver for two weeks with a special,
unprecedented twist — the stars who originated the roles would come too. Reunited
back on stage for the first time since Rent
(1994), Idina Menzel (Wicked, Frozen)
and Anthony Rapp (You’re a Good Man
Charlie Brown
) star in If/Then
along with LaChanze (The Color Purple,
Once on this Island
) and James Snyder (Cry-Baby).
This Broadway talent on the Buell stage elevates the show to a must-see
performance.

When reviewing anything, it’s
essential to look at the whole picture before making any judgments or
assumptions. But as the lights came up for intermission, I was dizzy. The first
act of
If/Then is a sprint. Songs are
chaotic, sets are constantly rotating, characters are running in and out of
scenes, new characters are being added, storylines are changing, and Menzel,
the musical’s anchor, is in a current state of flux, constantly putting on or
taking off her glasses. It’s a tornado spiraling so quickly you barely have
time to detangle one scene before the next begins.

This is a severe disservice
to the cast. There’s no room to catch your breath — which also doesn’t give the
characters, specifically Menzel, a moment to shine. It’s almost uncomfortable
to watch so much of the story unfold at the expense of the musical’s stellar
cast. It’s hard to distinguish between songs, and it’s hard to develop
relationships with the characters because as soon as something happens to Liz,
it’s Beth’s turn. Too much, too fast.

In total, the first half of
the show seemingly covers 85 percent of the plotline. And with two storylines,
it’s a lot to get through. But as the lights go down after intermission, the
musical’s real magic starts. As if stepping on the break, the musical slows
down, allowing characters to grow and reflect on the repercussions of all their
choices — both good and bad.

No matter what stage of
life you’re in, anyone can relate to the themes explored in
If/Then. It’s a musical that tackles
“What if?” and how our choices can feel like prisons. It delves into the issues
of unrequited love, fear of love, the fine line between love and hate,
resentment, lack, doubt and acceptance. In the end, the musical advises to,
“Love wherever and whenever and however you should.”

The second act neatly irons
out the chaos of the first act, creating more ability to comprehend, digest and
wonder. We’re left to decide if Liz or Beth made the “right” choice and, more
importantly, to question if there even is a “right” choice.

The slower pacing of act
two lets the audience enjoy Menzel as she embodies these two characters. With
the fast-paced act one, it’s difficult to fully grasp Menzel’s role in this
musical. While singing “Learning to Live Without,” a beautiful song debunking
the notion of “having it all,” Menzel shows a softer side to her ability. This
is far from her past of extraordinary characters like the hypersexual activist
Maureen, the green-skinned witch Elphaba or the snow-loving Disney princess
Elsa.
If/ Then’s Elizabeth is a
normal woman dealing with everyday problems. It’s a quieter role to see her in,
and the second act allows room to appreciate it.

But it would be a waste of
her talent without a showstopper, and that comes during “Always Starting Over.”
Alone on stage wearing frumpy clothes against a simple backdrop, Menzel delivers
a goosebump-inducing performance that allows the audience to let out a
collective breath of “finally.”

Just as fabulous as Menzel is,
so are her costars. Fellow Tony-winner, LaChanze is a delight to watch as the
vivacious Kate. LaChanze’s mighty voice and comedic timing provide a consistent
cool breeze throughout the show. James Snyder plays the dreamy army husband Josh
who believes in love, and even with his big voice, he gives an intimate,
touching performance. Anthony Rapp usually portrays underdog characters (note
his previous roles as Charlie Brown and Mark in Rent), and If/Then’s
Lucas is no exception. Rapp brings a certain charisma to the role, making the
character complex and lovable.

While If/Then is not a perfect musical, it’s a musical ripe for personal
pondering. Just think, your life might have been completely different if you
hadn’t chosen to read this article…