For everyone who has ever wondered just how different things might have been had they not made that one single life-altering decision, the National Tour of Broadway’s If/Then has arrived at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts, the last stop before its Tony-nominated star and two other original cast leads exit the tour, and if that’s not already enough to send you down Costa Mesa way, rest assured, this engaging, unpredictable, emotionally potent new musical is well worth the drive.
Idina Menzel (who won the 2004 Tony as Wicked’s first Elphaba) plays 38-year-old Elizabeth, back in New York City for the first time since leaving for Phoenix a decade ago for a now failed marriage and once again wondering “What next?”
An afternoon in the park has the returning city planner meeting up with college pal Lucas and new NYC neighbor Kate (original cast members Anthony Rapp and LaChanze), each of whom proposes a different direction for Elizabeth’s life in addition to a fresh new nickname to start over with.
Lucas suggests that “Beth” get back to her former activism, Kate offers a more free-wheeling path for “Liz,” and from then on, Brian Yorkey’s book has us alternating between Beth’s life as deputy director of the NYC Department Of City Planning and Liz’s as a college prof.
Liz and Beth both become romantically involved (no surprise there), but the directions their relationships with (respectively) Army Reserves doctor Josh (original Broadway star James Snyder) and NYC City Planning director Stephen (Daren A. Herbert) couldn’t be more different. (To begin with, Josh is single and available and Stephen not so much of either.)
Figuring in both plot threads, though in quite distinct ways, are the conveniently bisexual Lucas and lesbian Kate, whose romantic partners include (but are not limited to) David (Marc delaCruz) and Anne (Janine DiVita).
While all this might seem potentially confusing, it actually turns out relatively easy to keep Liz’s plotline separate from Beth’s. Not only is the first word in virtually every scene change either “Liz” or “Beth,” Liz wears glasses and Beth presumably contacts, and Kenneth Posner’s lighting switches color schemes for each—red for Liz and blue for Beth.
If/Then’s songs (music by Tom Kitt and lyrics by Yorkey) could not be more gorgeous or hummable, and if at times they come perilously close to their compositions for Next To Normal (and never more than in “I Hate You”), there are far worse scores to resemble than the one that won Kitt & Yorkey the Tony.
Under Michael Greif’s expert direction, Menzel brings her considerable star power and signature vocals to both Liz and Beth, Rapp simply could not be more engaging as Lucas, and LaChanze is the proverbial ball of fire as Kate. As for Snyder’s charismatic, vocally-blessed Josh, it’s exciting to see the L.A.-to-Broadway leading man back on home turf and stellar as ever.
U.C. Irvine grad Herbert, who made his own SoCal splash himself a few years back, makes for a dynamic Stephen, DiVita is feisty and fabulous as Kate, delaCruz is an absolutely engaging David, and Kyra Faith stands out among ensemble members as Beth protégé Elena.
And speaking of ensembles, If/Then is one of those rare musicals in which each and every cast member gets his or her own featured turn, in addition to playing multiple cameo roles along the way, and what a terrifically talented group they are: English Bernhardt (Paulette and others), Xavier Cano (A Soldier and others), Corey Greenan (Deputy Mayor, An Architect, and others), Cliffton Hall (A Bartender and others), Deedee Magno Hall (Cathy and others), original Broadway cast member Tyler McGee (A Street Musican and others), and Alicia Taylor Tomasko (A Flight Attendant and others), and swings Charissa Bertels, Trey Ellett, Joseph Morales, and Emily Rogers are poised to step into lead roles and ensemble tracks at a moment’s notice.
In a more perfect theatrical world, there would be no need to applaud, let alone even mention the racial diversity of the If/Then cast, but few musicals since Rent have more closely represented the world we live in today, and this is something to both celebrate and emulate as is If/Then’s LGBT inclusiveness.
Though not a dancy show per se, If/Then choreographer Larry Keigwin and associate choreographer Mark Myars seamlessly integrate movement throughout, Kitt & Yorkey’s songs performed to the expert musical direction of music director Carmel Dean, who conducts the show’s Broadway-caliber orchestra of touring and local musicians.
Scenic designer Mark Wendland’s sleek, fluid set, Emily Rebholz’s character-defining contemporary costumes, Posner’s striking lighting design, Brian Ronan’s crisp, clear sound design, Peter Nigrini and Dan Scully’s gorgeous, NYC-creating projections, and David Brian Brown’s just-right wig and hair design add up to a Grade-A Broadway design package.
Shawn Pennington is stage manager. Additional program credits go to Michael Starobin (orchestrations), Annmarie Milazzo (vocal arrangement), Michael Keller (music coordinator), Telsey + Company and Craig Burns, CSA (casting), and Jake Bell & Noel Bell (technical supervision).
Like Spring Awakening, All Shook Up, The Last Five Years, In The Heights, and Avenue Q (to name just five of my 21st-century favorites), If/Then is a musical I would glady choose to see again and again. With only one week remaining before significant lead player departures, its current run at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts is not to be missed.
Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
January 19, 2016
Photos of Original Broadway Cast: Joan Marcus