Thursday, March 10, 2016

If/Then Takes Hypotheticals to a Whole New Level

Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if you had made different choices? 

Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust. 
Maybe taken a trip that you decided you couldn't afford at the time; or dumped that partner when you knew they were wrong for you, instead of waiting two more years; or chosen an out of state college instead of one in-state; or never met your best friend. What if?

That is exactly the question asked by If/Then, the current production running at the Orpheum Theater. If/Then follows Elizabeth through two parallel lives she may have lived, had she made certain choices - one as Liz, who has a passionate love affair with Josh, a soldier and doctor; and one as Beth, a single woman who becomes one of the most successful urban planners in New York City. Both lives are interesting, both lead to success for Liz/Beth, and both have their own unique, difficult challenges.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The concept of this show is absolutely fascinating, and I found myself unexpectedly moved, particularly in Act II when several difficult things happen in Liz's relationship with Josh. That being said, I have to be honest - this show is long. In a lot of ways, it's actually more of an opera than musical - there's very little dialogue or non-musical interludes - and it clocks in at nearly three hours. Die hard theater goers will love this show, and there's a lot to recommend it; reflecting real life and dialogues rather than made-up ones, not shying away from tough issues, a realistic view of life in a big city - but it will take some investment. Worth it, but be aware.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The role of Liz/Beth was originated by Idina Menzel on Broadway, and her involvement was clearly a guideline for casting Jackie Burns, who plays Liz/Beth in this production. Burns has that Menzel-esque soaring voice that made "Let It Go" such a hit and she utilizes is fully here, which is a great thing; the score itself can be a little underwhelming and having some belters definitely helps sell the songs.

As Liz's love John, Matthew Hydzik is sweetly charming. He has a shy but great tone, and brings real heart to the hunky soldier stereotype. Anthony Rapp is endearingly normal as Liz/Beth's friend Lucas, and although his voice isn't classically "Broadway," provides a nice contrast to the rest of the cast. Daren Herbert is beguiling as Beth's love interest, Stephen. Tamyra Gray, Liz/Beth's best friend Kate, is unfortunately out during the Minneapolis run of If/Then; however, Charissa Bertels does an admirable job filling in.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust. 
Another cast note and huge thank you to Telsey+Company, who cast this production: it features a great spread of diversity, both in the roles (ranges of sexuality, interracial dating) and the cast itself, which features a human rainbow. It was SO refreshing to watch a reflection of the real world we live in (especially those of us living in cities), and to see a broad representation of America's faces in the cast. Theaters, please: DO THIS MORE. Audiences want it and it enriches the show - keep moving in this direction.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Liz/Beth's calling as an urban planner is the inspiration for the set, which is themed with construction drawings, city maps and other subtle AEC industry touches. It lends a new, deconstructed feel to the stage, and I loved it. Costume changes are impressively quick, but nothing out of what you'd see in ordinary life. The choreography here is underwhelming, but the show sort of dictates that; there isn't an opportunity for the stereotypical razzle-dazzle kind of number, and that's okay.

If/Then's greatest strength by far lies in the way it shows how glamorous actual, real life can be. When we're in the shuffle of the everyday, it's easy to forget to appreciate how far we have come, how impressive our achievements are, or even to just stop and appreciate the good things in our lives for a moment. There are so many ways to be fulfilled, so many paths to choose, and there is no reason to regret the road you took. If/Then shows us all that there's a reason to take any of the paths available to you; just enjoy the one you get, because you'll only get one chance at it.

For more information about the show or to buy tickets, click this link.