Regional Reviews: Boston
Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics) explore the concept of the road taken vs. the road not taken, combining two divergent storylines in the life of 38-year old Elizabeth (Burns), a city planner who moves back to New York for a new start after twelve years and a failed marriage in Phoenix. When she meets two friends in the parkLucas (Anthony Rapp), a friend from her undergrad years at Vassar, and Kate (Gray), her vivacious new neighborthey each invite her to an activity which will set her life course, depending on her choice. From this point, Elizabeth becomes "Beth" in the planned world she shares with bisexual Lucas, a fair housing activist, and "Liz" when she follows lesbian kindergarten teacher Kate's signs from the universe.
The stories of both sides of the character are compelling, but their impact is diminished by the confusion caused by the format. It is frequently difficult to determine whose story we are in at any given moment, only partly because all of the ancillary characters appear in both Liz's and Beth's lives. Burns dons or removes glasses or a blazer as one or the other, sometimes in rapid succession in a song, but I found that to be of little help. Plot points that escaped me were later clarified by my theater companion, or by a subsequent listen to the original Broadway cast recording while following along with the lyrics on the insert. With that clarity, my appreciation grew, but I wish it had happened during the performance.
The principal women are the standouts in this cast, but Rapp, Matthew Hydzik (Josh), and Jacques C. Smith (Stephen) make major contributions. Rapp adds star power and appears comfortable in the role he created on Broadway. His vocals sound a little scratchy at times, but he hits the proper emotional tone in his songs, especially his second act duet ("Some Other Me") with Burns. Hydzik is a delight as the self-effacing doctor cum soldier who becomes Liz's fateful choice. He has the necessary matinee idol good looks, and, more importantly, a beautiful voice and great chemistry with Burns. As her other potential love interest, Smith is charming and confident, the ultimate aphrodisiac as it turns out. Marc delaCruz (David) registers positively as Lucas' patient significant other.
Kitt's score requires a high quotient of belting, but Burns, Gray and DiVita are up to the task. The lesbian love story arc for the latter two presents ample opportunity for them to show their acting chops, following them through their initial infatuation, excited nuptials, and the test of marital infidelity. However, I like Gray best in her scenes with Burns and Rapp, playing the good buddy and showing the immensely likable aspects of her character, especially when Kate commandeers a subway car to poll the passengers on their belief in signs ("It's a Sign"). Gray has a great voice and brings a sparkle to the stage, making you look forward to her return each time she exits. The singing in the ensemble numbers is strong and energetic, and, while executed proficiently, the choreography left me cold.
My one unequivocal rave for If/Then is reserved for Jackie Burns. Or, perhaps I should say two raves, because she divides herself like an amoeba and gives life to two different personalities without shortchanging either characterization. Her vocal belt is a powerful instrument, yet, in the few songs that Kitt allows it, she is able to bring it down to a softer, sweeter place. She amazes with her ability to sustain the strength and volume for the duration of the show, but Burns has more than enough left for a formidable delivery of her eleven o'clock number, "Always Starting Over." Consider it the musical's version of the fireworks finale, the song that fulfills the promise that If/Then has been hinting at.
If/Then, performances through July 17, 2016, at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston, MA; Ticketmaster 800-982-2787 or bostonoperahouse.com. For more information on the tour, visit ifthenthemusical.com.
Music by Tom Kitt, Book & Lyrics by Brian Yorkey; Set Design, Mark Wendland; Costume Design, Emily Rebholz; Lighting Design, Kenneth Posner; Sound Design, Brian Ronan; Projection Design, Peter Nigrini & Dan Scully; Wig & Hair Design, David Brian Brown; Vocal Arrangement, Annmarie Milazzo; Music Coordinator, Michael Keller; Associate Choreographer, Mark Myars; Production Stage Manager, Shawn Pennington; Orchestrations, Michael Starobin; Music Supervisor, Carmel Dean; Choreographer, Larry Keigwin; Director, Michael Greif
Cast (in order of appearance): Jackie Burns, Anthony Rapp, Tamyra Gray, Matthew Hydzik, Janine DiVita, Jacques C. Smith, Marc delaCruz, Kyra Faith, Corey Greenan, Cliffton Hall, Xavier Cano, Alicia Taylor Tomasko, Tyler McGee, English Bernhardt, Deedee Magno Hall