With songs such as “Ain’t No Man Manhattan” and “A Map of New York,” it’s clear that If/Then is as much about the intersections and connections made in the streets of New York City as main character Elizabeth’s life. In its Minneapolis debut at the Orpheum, chances for Elizabeth to embark on separate journeys with new opportunities lie around every corner (literal and metaphoric).
I first saw this show in New York City, in a production with Idina Menzel in the starring role. And as I walked into the Orpheum to see it with the national touring cast, my thought was: How are they going to pull this off without Idina’s voice? The answer was soon clear, with Jackie Burns’ and her powerful voice perfectly tackling the role of Elizabeth.
If/Then follows two storylines, which can make each plot feel thin on its own. Newly-divorced Elizabeth is moving back to New York at 38. She makes a choice at the beginning of the play, and the plots subsequently follow two paths that Elizabeth’s life could potentially take.
In one, Elizabeth becomes Liz, who follows her heart to the love of her life, Josh (Matthew Hydzik). In the second she’s Beth, pursuing her career and becoming a hugely successful urban planner. Anthony Rapp as Lucas is a best friend to both Beth and Liz, and he plays the role with elegance and impeccable understanding. The choices Elizabeth makes affect all of those around her, including her friend Kate (Tamyra Gray), a rambunctious kindergarten teacher.
This show’s visual projections help to create an modern, urban feel with an otherwise simplistic set. The Pulitzer-prize winning team behind the musical score and book don’t rival upon the emotional impact of their last work, Next to Normal, but the music here is light, uplifting, and full of beautiful guitar riffs.
There is an issue with Elizabeth’s lives: She becomes either a successful romantic partner and mother, or a successful professional whose life turns out to lack meaning. These plotlines unfortunately feed into the notion that good mothers can’t be successful in their careers and vice versa—an outdated stereotype that is constantly proven wrong in real life. In the sophisticated milieu of New York, the simplistic nature of this plot feels too trite at times.
However, the rich characters and vibrant music make this show rise above its storylines. The characters are incredibly well drawn, intelligent, and refreshing on their own terms. This show has a lot of heart, showing us that our choices in life are much more complex than good or bad. Almost like a grown-up, swear-filled, Hallmark commercial, If/Then shows us ups and downs and a vision of life that takes chances as they come. Finally, it makes us think about how much our lives and choices have affected our loved ones and vice-versa. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to call my mother and tell her I miss her.
Book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, Music by Tom Kitt
When: March 8 – March 13
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Featuring: Jackie Burns, Anthony Rapp, Tamyra Gray, Matthew Hydzik, Janine DiVita, Daren A. Herbert, and Marc Delacruz