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Review: Idina Menzel’s ‘If/Then’ opens at ASU Gammage (Includes first-hand account)

The musical If/Then, which is on its first national tour and plays at ASU Gammage from Jan. 12-17, told Elizabeth’s story through a powerful and emotional experience that featured an excellent cast.

The musical, which was written specifically for its leading actress Idina Menzel (of Rent, Wicked and Frozen), tells the story of Elizabeth, a city planner who moves back to New York City in hopes of restarting her life.

The plot starts off with Elizabeth searching for her nerdy, social activist college boyfriend Lucas, performed by Anthony Rapp (of If/Then Broadway, Rent, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown), and her new friend, a lively, charismatic kindergarten teacher named Kate, who is played by LaChanze (of If/Then Broadway, The Color Purple, Once on This Island). During the meetup, Elizabeth is presented with two events to partake in: hanging out in the park with Kate and her girlfriend Anne (Janice DiVita, of Grease, Young Frankenstein), or join Lucas at an urban development protest. Before she can decide, Elizabeth gets a phone call from an unfamiliar number.

Does she answer it?

If/Then explores how Elizabeth’s life plays out depending on what choice she makes about this seemingly unimportant decision. If she ignores the call and goes with Kate, she became Liz, a fun-loving woman who’s open to whatever comes her way. If she answers the call and follows Lucas to the protest, then she turns into Beth, a serious, career-oriented woman who wears glasses and is motivated to achieve her professional dreams.
Each woman’s life unfolds in distinct ways.

Liz loses the opportunity for her dream city planning job, but Beth gets it. Liz meets Josh, a surgeon in the army who is played by James Snyder (of If/Then Broadway, Cry Baby, She’s the Man), and they begin dating. Beth dismisses Josh and draws closer to Lucas and her boss, Stephen (Daren Herbert of The Wild Party, Once on This Island). Liz lives a fulfilling personal life, Beth accomplishes her professional aspirations. And in both lives, the actions Liz and Beth take affect their friends and their lives, furthering altering the possible futures.

If/Then’s concept is an old one that I’ve explored many times in my own head. How important are menial day-to-day choices? But the musical isn’t driven by its plot, instead it’s power comes from the characters. And although the play starts off slow, once the gears shift these characters start feeling real enough to cherish. I watched Liz and Beth live similar, but individual lives and make choices that affect everybody around them. I watched them experience joy and sorrow, anxiety and excitement, doubt and hope.
I saw myself in their lives, their choices.

If/Then is a profoundly human play. It incorporates people of various colors, genders and sexual orientations. It thrives on the day-to-day challenges and decisions that many of us face. And it does so with grace.
The songs touch cornerstones of our lives, with witty lyrics and snappy lines. The cast, especially Menzel and Snyder, sing with power and passion that drew tears from nearby audience members. The song, “You Learn to Live Without,” caused even my eyes to moisten.

I enjoyed If/Then and appreciated its message, but I also feel that I’m too young to truly understand it. Some of the events are unknown to me, because at 25-years-old I haven’t experienced much of what life entails. The older audience members seemed more profoundly affected by particular songs and scenes.

But that’s the point of the musical. Everybody has their own story, their own lives. And we never know how our tales will turn out.

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