Regional Reviews: San Diego
So, how did the cast do? Very well, despite the obstacles imposed by Nature. The musical itself, well, that's another thing.
These four performers have been working together for a long time, and they look as though they're enjoying each other's company. There's an easy rapport among them that allows each to shine when called upon to do so. They're also playing very likeable contemporary characters with whom audiences can identify and feel comfortable.
Of course, Ms. Menzel is called upon to shine more than the othersand shine she does. She's never off stage for very long, and she performs in thirteen of the twenty-two songs, usually with major responsibilities. She even manages to hit her peak two-and-a-half hours in, at the eleven o'clock number "Always Starting Over," the show's emotional high point.
And, she gets to play two sides of the same woman. While her character name is Elizabeth, she meets up with two friends as she arrives in New York with the prospect of taking an urban planning job. Kate (LaChanze) calls her "Liz" and Lucas (Mr. Rapp) knows her as "Beth." The script follows Elizabeth in both directions simultaneously: Liz doesn't get the job but meets Josh, a military doctor (Mr. Snyder), and falls in love. Beth does get the job, deals sensitively with a boss (Daren A. Herbert) who's a good colleague but who is also attracted to her, and succeeds at work while shorting her love life.
The two stories proceed side by side, and you have to pick up on small details (Liz wears glasses, Beth doesn't) to tell them apart. The principal characters have different arcs in the different stories, even though they remain the same people. In Beth's story, Kate also succeeds at work, as does Lucas in his own way. Lucas, though, renews a relationship he had previously with Beth. In Liz's story, Kate's arc focuses on her relationship with Anne (Janine DiVita), while Lucas, who is apparently bisexual, meets David (Marc Delacruz), a friend of Josh's, and the two of them immediately start a relationship. Mr. Snyder's character even makes an unexpected appearance in Beth's story.
So, the plot might be simplified by depicting career versus relationship, but that's an over-simplification. The principal characters are all successful in their own ways, career wise (Anne is a bit of a cypher on the work front), and they all have relationship issues to deal with. Liz's story puts the relationship issues into focus, while Beth's story examines how career can interfere with having intimate relationships.
It's all very au courant, and hip (director Michael Greif has mounted a beautiful production), and there's enough plot to fill up a couple of seasons on Lifetime TV. But, it's also pretty predictable, and wears its emotions on its sleeve.
Mr. Kitt and Mr. Yorkey's songs can be clever ("What the Fuck?") or moving (the aforementioned eleven o'clock number), but there aren't enough of them that are one or the other. They're not terrible, just not distinguished.
So, a lot falls on the shoulders of whoever plays Elizabeth, and Ms. Menzel comes onstage to an audience just waiting to see Maureen from Rent, Elphaba from Wicked, or the woman who sang "Let It Go" in Frozen. Those expectations bring in the crowds, even on a day when just moving around was difficult. Without those expectations, and without three of the four original cast members (Mr. Rapp will continue) the dynamic will surely change.
It's nice to watch for now, though.
Performances continue at downtown San Diego's Civic Theatre through January 10, 2016. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster or by calling Broadway/San Diego at (619) 570-1100. Additional information is available at www.broadwaysd.com. For more information on the tour, visit ifthenthemusical.com/tour.php.