Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Go/Now to If/Then the Broadway Tour
at the Paramount Theatre

National Tour
Review by David Edward Hughes


Idina Menzel and Cast
Photo by Joan Marcus
Less is more in the case of what I have to say about this outstanding follow up to composer Tom Kitt and Seattle's (well Issaquah's) own librettist/lyricist Brian Yorkey's If/Then, in for way too short a run (through Sunday November 8th) at Seattle's flagship touring house The Paramount. Many in New York felt that the show had too tough an act to follow in the team and director's critical/commercial/Best Musical Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning Next to Normal. If/Then failed to win a nomination for Best Musical, though star Idina Menzel and writers Kitt and Yorkey were nominated. But this was an audience show, running to solid Broadway houses for a full year and anchored by a radiant quartet of star performers, all of whom have helped launch this tour that won instant cheers and a genuine standing ovation from a packed opening night crowd here in the Emerald City. Oh, and did I mention that, though comparing the two is like comparing Wonderful Town to West Side Story, this warmly engaging, tuneful and witty show wowed me, even more than Next to Normal. Some achievement!

Idina Menzel, so much more assured and vocally solid than in her impressive Tony winning role of Elphaba in Wicked, plays Elizabeth, who wonders which two different paths her life might have gone, and we get to watch her travel down both of them. Sure, that premise is similar to a rather unremarkable Gwyneth Paltrow film comedy Sliding Doors, but that is where the similarities end. This is in part because, despite Menzel's clearly central portrayals of Liz and Beth, the supporting characters in If/Then are engaging, fully developed people themselves, going down their own different lifelines. I am not saying a bit more about the clever if sometimes confusing overlapping storylines, because one should see this show as open-heartedly and open-mindedly as possible to get its full value. But I have plenty more to say about the production.

The once wrongly dubbed Adele Dazeem, aka Idina Menzel, is all you could want in a star performer—vocal dynamite, able to tug at the heartstrings and tickle the funny bone—but she never hogs the spotlight, nor does Yorkey's script allow for such a thing. LaChanze, so heartbreaking in such great, career defining roles as Miss Celie (The Color Purple), Sarah (Ragtime), and of course Ti Moune (Once on this Island), is funny, really funny, yet funny in a real way and not cheated of her own big dramatic roles in the process. Can't recall the last show I saw with such deliciously contrasting yet complementary leading ladies.

Rent OC member Anthony Rapp (who as a child was the only good thing in a dire musical called The Little Prince and the Aviator) is in top form as usual as Lucas, Liz/Beth's bi-sexual sometimes friend/sometimes lover, and ex-Seattleite Marc Dela Cruz is charm personified as Lucas's ultimate lover or spouse David. As for James Snyder as Josh, the predestined love of perhaps both Liz and Beth's lives, he is an old-school, rich voiced, good-looking All-American dreamboat, whose featured song "Hey Kid" to his about to be born son, is a highlight in a particularly potent act two song line-up which takes the Kitt/Yorkey score from charming and fun, to far from normal wonderment.

Also making strong contributions are sultry and raffish Janine DiVita as LaChanze's girlfriend and one day wife Anne, and soulful and dashing Darren A. Herbert as a married city planner named Stephen who makes a charmed working relationship with Beth go sour when they take a stab at romance. Smaller roles are most ably filled, in particular by Kyra Faith and English Bernhardt.

Director Michael Greif, re-teaming with the writers from Next to Normal, does impeccable work with this lighter but still emotionally rich show, and Kitt and Yorkey have supplied a superior score, with particular nods to "What If?" "Here I Go," "Some Other Me," "Love While You Can," "Surprise," and "Always Starting Over." It doesn't hurt that Idina, LaChanze, and Rapp have never sounded better (despite the iffy sound system that muffled many a clever Yorkey lyric at the performance I attended). Larry Keigwin's musical staging never calls for much real choreography but it is inventive, sprightly, and makes the ensemble look good, while Carmel Dean's musical direction is expert and benefits from Michael Starobin's nuanced orchestrations.

Set design by Mark Wendland personifies the schizoid look of modern-day Manhattan set off by an array of fine projections for punctuation, and blending well with the gleaming lighting design of Kenneth Posner. Emily Rebholz' costumes are as varied and eye catching as can be.

If/Then is above all admirable for being an original tale in an era devoted to the likes of Nuremberg!-The Musical Judgement at Nuremberg (ok I made that one up, but ...). If you can get a ticket Then you must see this one in the few remaining days it has in town. I give it my highest recommendation of an MTD (Magic to Do) the equivalent of 4 stars.

If/Then runs through November 8, 2015, at the Paramount Theatre at 9th and Pine, Downtown Seattle. For more information and tickets go to www.stgpresents.org. For more information on the tour, visit ifthenthemusical.com.

- David Edward Hughes




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