Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What If?

My customary Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. review will be delayed for a few days, thanks to a series of evening plans filling up my week. Last night, it was going to see the touring production of the musical If/Then during its limited run in Denver.

If/Then is a new musical built around a premise you've probably seen on TV (Awake) or in a movie (Sliding Doors): how would your life be changed if just one key event had gone differently? If/Then follows Elizabeth as she moves back to New York after a divorce. She reconnects with some old friends and tries to get her life back on track. A seemingly inconsequential decision right at the start of the play fractures it into two stories: one in which "Liz" pursues love, and another in which "Beth" pursues a career. The musical thoroughly explores both choices.

This musical didn't enjoy a particularly long run on Broadway; indeed, musicals rarely go on national tour without more New York success. But this was a special case. Broadway superstar Idina Menzel (who you and your kids know as the voice behind "Let It Go" in the movie Frozen) had starred in the show to much acclaim. Fittingly enough for a story about choices, she made an unusual one here. She chose to head out on the road to continue the role in the first six stops on its national tour. Her devotion to the play wasn't unique, either; with her at the top, three other key actors from the Broadway cast (LaChanze, Anthony Rapp, and James Snyder) decided to join her. The result is a rare chance for theater-goers outside New York: the chance to basically see the original Broadway production in your hometown.

If/Then isn't the most profound play I've seen, but it is very well put together. The switching back and forth between "time lines" is handled very smoothly through several story and lighting clues that quickly orient where you are. There are plenty of fun moments of near-convergence in the two worlds even as they unfold in very different ways. And a particularly dark second act definitely increases the impact of what up until then had been a fairly lightweight night of theater.

The music is exceedingly clever, and also quite unlike what you think of as a Broadway musical. The melodies are memorable, but far from simple. The lyrics are tangled and smart, with a wide variety of rhyming patterns. And singers curse. Proudly.

Clever though the show is, though, it's still fair to say the major draw here is to see Idina Menzel and her fellow Broadway cast members. And they certainly do deliver. The major numbers won enthusiastic (and deserved) applause from the audience. Even more rare, the emotional moments in the story felt small and intimate, even in a giant theater.

I'd rate If/Then a B+. It's here in Denver for a few more days, and it's worth hunting for a ticket if you can get your hands on it. And if you live in one of the other cities where it's stopping soon, that search should be even easier.

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