Theater: ‘If’ not bad, ‘Then’ just OK

If/Then Idina Menzel Anthony Rapp
“If/Then” mirrors the movie “Sliding Doors,” but on an even more superficial level.
Credit: Joan Marcus

If not for its stars, then the new musical “If/Then” might never have made it to Broadway. Former “Rent” co-stars Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp, who’ve been working on the show together for about two and a half years, are popular enough with theater geeks to get butts in the seats. But will it be enough to keep the show open once the reviews come in?

The plot follows 40-something Elizabeth (Menzel), who has to choose between two friends on a fateful day in Madison Square Park. When she goes one way, it brings her to marriage and family; when she chooses the other, she winds up professionally successful and romantically fraught. (It begs the uninspired question of whether a woman can have it all. Could the shallow inspection of this tired premise have something to do with the all-male creative team? Director Michael Greif, composer Tom Kitt and book writer/lyricist Brian Yorkey worked together previously on “Next to Normal,” to much greater success.) Different nicknames and a pair of eyeglasses (that our heroine has to mysteriously don in one universe) are meant to help us keep track of the muddled storylines.

The music is fine and sometimes even good, but it lacks memorable melodies and eventually blurs together during the nearly three-hour show. If anything, the songs are strongest because of some surprising comedic moments that come out of the lyrics. If the show pushed the envelope past a few strategically placed F-words, maybe we’d have something. As it is, the moment the show gets close to having some edge, it immediately scuttles back into the safe platitudes of love and friendship or jokes about living in NYC.

The set, while it creates some lovely tableaus (such as the picture above), fails to utilize the space or add depth to the story. The mirror that sometimes serves as a roof is predictably symbolic, but it merely cuts the story in half rather than doubling it. Vertical space is not used very well, and never concurrently with the floorboards. It’s almost as if the designer couldn’t take on the whole picture at once, which is disappointing in a generous Broadway house.

Another area that could use some work is the choreography, which mostly consists of people jumping and swiveling around. It’s the Broadway debut for choreographer Larry Keigwin (another male), but he doesn’t leap at the chance to show off.

So while the leads are strong — including the memorable LaChanze as outgoing lesbian Kate, plus relative newcomer James Snyder as the ill-fated love interest — it’s really the creative team that lets this show down. With a stronger message and more respect for the modern audience, this concept could have guaranteed itself a prolonged home at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. But that’s another reality, and sadly not the path this production chose to take.

If you go

‘If/Then’
Open-ended run
Richard Rodgers Theatre
226 W. 46th St.
$67-$142,
www.ifthenthemusical.com

Follow T. Michelle Murphy on Twitter: @TMichelleMurphy



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