'If/Then' tells the story of Elizabeth, who moves to New York City to start a new chapter in life, and hits a fork in the road; from that fork the story continues to show both paths and how they resolve, in back-and-forth vignettes.
The cast is stellar - they're full of energy, sing and even belt marvelously, dance well, are well-rehearsed, well costumed (it's a contemporary piece, so the bar here is pretty low), and there's little to critique, frankly. Ashley Marie Lewis (Elizabeth, in a role originated by Idina Menzel) shows a tremendous vocal range and powers through a number of songs that leave no doubt the microphone she's wearing is unnecessary (more on this later). With the lead role, Lewis is almost always 'on' for the length of the 3 hour show (with an intermission after Act 1, which came in at 90 minutes). Kate (Lillie Eliza Thomas) might not show the strength of Lewis but has more nuance in her singing brings Elizabeth's BFF Kate a presence that might otherwise get lost in the crowd. David Kotary's Lucas has VERY different arcs in the two parallel story lines, and shows the greatest emotional diversity over the course of the play. Josh (Bradley D Gale) plays the love interest in one of the parallels, and sings with emotion and paniche. A special ovation to Danielle Harris as Elena; while Elena's role is minor, Danielle's voice was not shown-off much. When she did sing, it was obvious her microphone was also unneeded, her power and ability somewhat hidden in the role.
So - there's a VERY talented cast; the show was directed well, didn't have any noticeable performance issues, and the set, while minimal, worked perfectly for the production and the venue.
If it sounds like there's a 'but' coming - there is. A great cast and crew cannot make up for script issues, and unfortunately, even with all this talent, I just didn't CARE about the characters. The situations and characters themselves felt shallow, in many cases self-absorbed, and so I was never able to make the leap to being emotionally invested in them. One scene in Act 2 was, I believe, the emotional high point, and Lewis' Elizabeth made every possible effort to bring that home - and succeeded. but it was too little (or too easy, considering the story at that point - sorry for being obtuse, I'm not providing spoilers!) and so too late. The script needs a rewrite to shorten the runtime, and to make the separate story lines more obvious; I know I was confused at some points where Elizabeth's career path was in which story line, and I'm certain I'm not the only one. It was more than a little frustrating at the end of the night to realize how much effort this entire cast and crew put in to bringing this life, only to live the theater glad to have witnessed the talent but also glad the show was finally over.
- This is a big one for me -if the character with a glass/cup/tumbler is NOT a bartender who's currently cleaning the thing, PUT LIQUID IN THE GLASS. I know spills are a concern, but add water to the bottle, let the actors not have to pantomime pouring and drinking. In this theater, we're 5 feet away - we can see the glass is empty!
- One table gets used fairly frequently in the show. For the love of all that's good in theater, LEVEL THE LEGS OF THE TABLE.
- As I mentioned above, two actresses in the show (and many more, no doubt!) could sing from the STREET and be heard in the theater. It's a concrete floor, brick back wall and metal ceiling, in a room that's 40x50 at best; an actor standing stage center is 30' from the back row. Mics just aren't necessary! I understand they provide for a level of nuance and makes sound design easier, but without a compressor on the mic feed the powerhouse singers can (and did) blow out the house.
- One more script complaint. It's a 'modern musical'. This means that the playwright (book & lyrics by Brian Yorkey) believes that by having the characters say 'f*ck' repeatedly it's somehow better or more 'real'. Frankly, while some the intended audience probably does feel that way - let's face it, theater patrons skew older, and those folk don't feel that way AT ALL. I know several people who'd walk out of theater at the repetition.
The Theater West End did a great job bringing a flawed script to life. I frankly can't wait for the next show, with hopefully a better script.
Rating: B-, not family-friendly due to language.