Wednesday, January 13, 2016

reviews - IF / THEN - National Tour: ASU Gammage

Idina Menzel
photo: Joan Marcus
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 17th.

"...IF/THEN is a show of might have beens and what ifs, a notion in which most of us engage from time to time, particularly when things are down or not going the way we planned. Recently divorced and ready to start over, Elizabeth (Idina Menzel) returns to New York City. Waiting for her in Madison Square Park are two friends from earlier days, Lucas (Anthony Rapp) and Kate (LaCHANZE), both of whom have suggestions on how Elizabeth should start seeking out new experiences in NYC...What follows are two paths; two similar but differing story lines with separate conclusions, running parallel, exploring the might have beens and what ifs..Technically, the show is a marvel. Mark Wendland’s design is a wonder of automated movement..the songs, here beautifully sung from a first rate cast, tend to flow from one to the other without ever distinguishing themselves individually. Brian Yorkey’s lyrics are smart and often amusing, while Tom Kitt’s music is both melodious and occasionally borderline exciting, yet somehow as a whole they never fully take off, ..The real issue is Yorkey’s book. Despite the show’s best attempts to indicate in one way or another which of the two worlds we’re currently viewing, clarity of narrative is missing. At any given moment, audiences won’t always know where they are..having Elizabeth wear glasses for one story line and not the other is the kind of subtlety that only works in a more intimate theatrical setting. Presented in a massive auditorium as most national tours are, those seated further away from the stage may not see or notice the difference...However, the fun of IF/THEN with this current version of the national tour is the opportunity to see several of the Broadway cast in their original roles. LaCHANZE, Anthony Rapp and James Snyder reprise their well-rounded supporting characters, and by presence alone add a welcome gravitas to an overall lightweight subject. But the show’s reason-to-be rests solely on the shoulders of its leading lady, and even if the subject disappoints, Idina Menzel never does...Despite the book’s shortcomings, having this rare opportunity of seeing Idina Menzel perform in a Broadway production on an Arizona stage is the evening’s biggest thrill of all. " -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"...Almost everyone has wondered what might have happened if they'd made a different decision in their past. Would their life end up better or worse based on that choice? If/Then shows the results of different decisions in one woman's life. ...In one story, based on missing a phone call about a dream job, she ends up finding love, while in the other, having taken the phone call, she ends up following her professional calling but sacrificing romance. Using mainly just a pair of glasses to signify when she is Liz (wearing the glasses), who meets the Army doctor Josh who has just returned from overseas, and when she is Beth (not wearing the glasses), who takes a high level job working for New York's urban development projects, the plot moves back and forth from one storyline to the next. Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt..have crafted an interesting and original story, though it does get somewhat confusing and convoluted. ..the power ballads wear thin after awhile and a few of the songs are completely forgettable. Also, the fact that in one story the character of Lucas, played by Anthony Rapp, is gay, while in the other he is straight, seems to be a plot device that is completely unrealistic (why would a decision that Elizabeth makes change the sexuality of another character in her life?). ...Menzel's earthy voice and intense focus on her character(s) work well to elevate the story into one where you care for her and the other people in the lives of Liz and Beth. LaChanze is a firecracker of sass and spunk, with a voice like Menzel's that soars to the rafters and beyond...Director Michael Greif ingeniously stages the action on Mark Wendland's almost constantly moving set design...Only Larry Keigwin's choreography is a bit unfocused ...While the end result of If/Then may be somewhat confusing, the powerhouse vocals of Menzel and the addition of her Broadway co-stars on the tour make this an intriguing journey to take. It will also most likely give you plenty to talk about afterwards—even if it is just trying to clarify the various plot points with your fellow, and most likely slightly confused, theatregoers."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"... a none-too-dynamic biographical view of Menzel’s own life challenges hidden in a lightly veiled story about Elizabeth, an urban planner.  Tom Kitt’s score is filled with several soaring solo songs that allow Menzel to show off her many musical gifts while the book scenes let her work her acting chops..Unfortunately, Brian Yorkey’s book meanders in telling the straight-forward story...Without Menzel’s star power, “If/Then” is a nothing musical with an oft repeated message that continues through Sunday. "  --Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"..In the case of “If/Then,” the recipe for success begins — but definitely does not end — with Idina Menzel...headlining the first national tour,...a crowd-pleasing showcase for Menzel’s immense vocal talents...offers up a real-life story about choices and chance....The hook here is that we get to follow two alternate-reality narratives for Menzel’s character...Where these two paths lead is, of course, spoiler territory. Suffice it to say the ultimate payoff is worth the ride, both dramatically and musically....The songs aren’t exactly sing-along hits, but they are thrilling musical storytelling, often skipping between storylines in the same number...Director Michael Greif staves off potential confusion with a brisk, clear staging..Whether that will be enough to keep the crowds coming after Menzel, LaChanze and Snyder leave the tour following its next stop, in Costa Mesa, Calif., remains to be seen (Rapp is staying on). But this is certainly a musical that deserves a life after Idina."  - Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

IF/THEN is about the intersection in life of choice and chance and the implications of the decision we make about which path to pursue. ...writer/lyricist Brian Yorkey works a bit of theatrical magic and splits Elizabeth's persona in two. Enter Liz, who pursues love; Beth, career. The play then alternates between their parallel paths and winds toward their destined outcomes. It's a clever concept but one that gets mired in sometimes confusing shifts between the two story arcs, is laden with subplots that, while sweet, seem extraneous, and has a run time that could easily be cut without compromising the story. After a while, Tom Kitt's amped-up sharply phrased songs become redundant ...and are hardly memorable. Larry Keigwin's choreography is stiff though artsy. On the other hand, Mark Wendland's set design and Peter Nigrini and Dan Scully's kinetic projections...provide a delightfully imaginative backdrop to the on-stage action. If there is a saving grace to this rather predictable variation on the "what if" theme, it is surely ~ but not solely ~ Menzel's rich powerhouse vocals. As she navigates from one path to another, her super moments occur when she breaks into song. She gives her adoring audience all they could possibly want, and that may be worth the price of the ticket. However, what is lacking in her performance is passion...IF/THEN's mojo resides in the stellar performance of LaChanze...a non-stop engine of energy, delivering one knockout song after another and acting up a storm. ...At show's end, an immensely appreciative audience declared their love with a rousing ovation and, as they streamed out of the hall, a salient question loomed overhead. Does it really matter in the long run what choices we make? Will we not ultimately end up in the same place?"  -Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

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