So any excitement I initially had for If/Then had mostly been diminished by the time I got to the show due to the mixed reviews and word of mouth saying it was confusing and hard to follow. But what can I say? I enjoyed myself regardless (check out the highlight reel here). The new musical is certainly not perfect. It’s a little all over the place. I could have done without the choreography. Characters are underwritten. There are a few too many moving parts if you will, but it does have a lot going for it.
Idina Menzel is a powerhouse. Say what you will about her TV performances; she belongs on that stage and subsequently brings the house down. She’s famous, folks. The rest of the cast is amazing, talented, and sadly under-used. LaChanze gets her chance to shine as does Anthony Rapp (who, I must say, has never sounded better), but Jenn Colella’s character doesn’t get the chance to develop. Same with Jerry Dixon, Jason Tam, or even the male lead James Snyder. It’s Menzel’s story through and through. The rest of the characters tend to just circle around her.
So If/Then is about Elizabeth. She’s nearing 40 and having just gone through a divorce out in Arizona, is moving back to New York City to start her life over. What’s holding her back is her tendency to overanalyze all her decisions – playing out all the possible results of every possible action – therefore making her hesitate over every little thing, from huge life decisions to how to spend her afternoon. The big convention of this musical is that one of these smaller decisions ends up splitting her life in two, and we get to see how the two sides of the coin play out, prompting the question: how can one seemingly unimportant decision potentially affect the rest of our lives?
As a result of this setup, many people have said the plot is difficult to follow, or they didn’t realize that two different stories were being told. I honestly didn’t think it was that challenging. True, I went in knowing it was going to happen, but even so, I think it’s spelled out quite clearly in the first number. And then they set up blatant clues as to which “timeline” you’re in – it’s either Liz wearing glasses or Beth without. It’s “Sliding Doors” the musical, as Laura Benanti says. Side note: I’ve also been calling it “RENT 2: Mortgage.” It’s fun to see Anthony and Idina together again. There’s a scene where they talk about how the term “squatting” is dated, and that gets quite the laugh from RENT fans in the house.
The score is the thing. I’ve had the cast recording on repeat on Spotify for weeks. If you don’t know Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, they won the Tony for Next to Normal. These guys know how to write a score. Here are a few sample songs of theirs: Some Other Me, Superboy and the Invisible Girl, and the Next to Normal Tony performance of “You Don’t Know” / “I Am the One.” A couple weeks ago the If/Then cast recording debuted at No. 19 on the Billboard charts. A Broadway show hasn’t done that since 1996. You may have heard of it; it was a little show called RENT.
I won’t talk about how the storylines play out or what ends up happening. I will say that I think the show deserved a little more acknowledgement than it received. Although it’s flawed, and I honestly would recommend seeing other shows first, the fact that it’s a brand new musical should be supported and recognized.
Music by Tom Kitt, Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey, Directed by Michael Greif
Richard Rodgers Theatre, Open-Ended
Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich
Pictured: Idina Menzel and the cast of If/Then
So I know I’m beyond behind on my reviews, but I figure we should take a moment to discuss Sunday night’s Tony Awards. Did you watch? DVR it for later? I got comfortable in my pajamas and sat back to enjoy an evening of theatre. Here’s a brief look at my take on some of the highs and lows of the evening.
Jessie Mueller! Carole King! A wonderful performance and a much-deserved win for Miss Mueller as Best Leading Actress in a Musical. I haven’t even seen the show, and I love her! I do admit that I was also deeply rooting for Kelli O’Hara as it was her fifth nomination and she certainly deserves it after all these years. Perhaps next year for The King and I? Nonetheless, Jessie has been taking the theatre community by storm ever since On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. I’m stoked for her and can’t wait to see Beautiful.
Three words: Idina. Effin. Menzel. Well, let me back up. First there was Jonathan Groff’s brilliant introduction, and then the house was subsequently brought down with her If/Then 11 o’clock number. And yet, people haven’t been talking about it! I did not see my Facebook or Twitter feed freaking out afterward. Weren’t you watching, theatre fans? Honestly, in my eyes, this may have been the performance of the evening.
Also, let’s rejoice for Best Musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder – a fantastic performance and an even more hilarious introduction by Jefferson Mays. Let’s hear it for the underdog of the season actually getting its due with its multiple wins.
Cabaret and Alan Cumming? Solid of course.
James Monroe Iglehart’s praise shout.
Lena Hall’s heartfelt speech.
I also want to give a shout-out to Sutton for always being glorious.
And that Hedwig performance?? Yes! I’m so excited to see it in a few weeks!
And perhaps the ultimate highlight of the evening: Audra. Tears. Will Swenson. Tears. Standing ovation. More tears. Making history in two ways. For those of you who don’t know the momentousness of Audra’s win on Sunday for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, she is now the winner of the most Tony awards. She had five, tying with Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris, and now she has a whopping six, on top of the fact that she is now the only person who has won in all four performance categories! Audra McDonald = Queen of Broadway. Can she host next year?
Clint Eastwood and whatever that presenting was supposed to be.
The opening? I’m sorry, I just wasn’t into it. I do like how so many shows had cameos, and the awkward elevator ride with NPH was delightful, and I understand that they likely didn’t bother with a “traditional” opening number because it could never compete with last year’s. But seriously – Hugh Jackman just bouncing the whole time? Yes, I know it refers to something specific, but we’re really going to take an obscure reference and make it the centerpiece of a four-minute opening number? C’mon Tony writers, you can do better than that. You want more people to tune in? Don’t lose them in the first few minutes!
Sting, I’m bored.
Aladdin’s Friend Like Me was like watching a seizure on stage. And listen, if the funniest part of the song is when the Genie stops to sing from different Disney movies, then I think there’s an inherent problem with the show. People out there who want to spend money on Aladdin? I’m just saying – that’s the best you’re gonna get. They played their best hand on Sunday, so if you didn’t enjoy that number, you might want to reconsider your options.
Zach Braff’s hair.
I thought ROCKY was a musical. Also? Shortest fight ever.
This has been a common rant on Facebook and everywhere else so I won’t digress too long, but I will say I too am tired of the out-of-place Hollywood actors presenting. I love you Tina Fey, but why are you up there and not a Broadway vet? It’s all to improve ratings and get viewers, right? Well, ratings were lower this year. Maybe they should focus more on the theatre community and what we do best and feature more performances from the current season instead of a Music Man rap with LL Cool J and T.I.? Sure, The Bridges of Madison County closed, but couldn’t we get a song with Steven and Kelli? Anyway, more on that and the recent Tony Award Administration Committee ruling in a later post.
All in all, it was a relatively smooth evening without too many hitches, and we got to see some great numbers (go here to watch the rest of the performances). Here’s to another season of theatre!
IF/THEN recently finished up its run in Washington, DC at The National Theatre and isn’t coming to the Great White Way for another several months (March 2014), but I can’t help but be excited about the possibilities!
First, you’ve got this creative team: composer Tom Kitt and book/lyrics writer Brian Yorkey (the Tony-winning writing team of Next to Normal) and Tony-nominated director Michael Greif. Second, the show stars Tony winner Idina Menzel and features Anthony Rapp, James Snyder, LaChanze, Jenn Colella, and more. Third, and possibly most important, it’s Brand. New. Material.
This is so rare nowadays in the musical world it makes my heart hurt a little. Yes, yes, musicals based on movies can be hits (Kinky Boots, Matilda) and even some jukebox musicals make a huge splash (Jersey Boys), but to quote [title of show]: “Original on Broadway? Baby, that is risky!”
I can tell you that this audio clip got me excited about it. And, well, that’s all I really know. The basic premise is that a woman in her 40s (Menzel) is entering a new phase of her life in New York City and getting a chance at a fresh start.
Who knows? Maybe it will crash and burn, but what can I say? I’m excited to support the risk-takers out there and see something new.
Written by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, Directed by Michael Greif
Richard Rodgers Theatre, first preview March 5th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Idina Menzel
Yes, a new feature! Huzzah! This newly-formed category entitled “You Should Be Listening To” is basically where I tell you about what cast album I’m currently obsessed with, which brings me to our first edition…
Have you seen Frozen yet? It’s the new animated Disney film featuring actual, real voice talent. Unheard of I know. Where’s Russell Crowe as Prince Hans, right? The singers get to speak the roles, too. Crazy talk! The movie broke all kinds of records over Thanksgiving. It grossed $67.4 million over the 3-day weekend, making it the largest opening for a Walt Disney Animation Studios film. It was also the second overall highest in sales for the 5-day weekend after Catching Fire.
The movie is cute and endearing, but what I’m really posting (aka obsessing) about is the music. The nine songs are written by Robert Lopez and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez. You know Robert Lopez’s music if you’re a fan of Avenue Q or The Book of Mormon. The husband-and-wife writing team also penned Finding Nemo – The Musical (now playing at Animal Kingdom!).
So not only do you have Broadway-caliber writers, but as I said above, the characters are voiced by real Broadway talent, many of whom are Tony nominees. The cast includes Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Santino Fontana (this collection of videos is also worth your time), Idina Menzel, and Kristen Bell. I mean, come ON. And yes! Even Kristen Bell was on Broadway (like in the flop, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer)!
Now, my roommate and I are obsessed with all of the songs so go Spotify the soundtrack after you see it. The collection is great. There’s the classic “Be Our Guest”-style group number (“Fixer Upper”), the hopeful ingénue’s number (“For the First Time in Forever”), and the hilarious sidekick tune (“In Summer”). The only crime is Groff doesn’t get a full song. What is that about?
But let me highlight two of the songs. The love song is called “Love Is an Open Door” and is sung by Bell and Fontana. It’s so adorably peppy, full of clever lyrics and melodic surprises, and also manages to poke fun at the form at the same time. Then there is the big power ballad “Let It Go” sung by Menzel. The roomie and I first got a preview of this when we were down in Disney World in November. At Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in Magic Kingdom, there was this epic light show projected on Cinderella’s castle, and we got to see a 30-second preview of this song. I was particularly tickled to hear Idina’s voice ringing out across Disney. She’s come so far!
Now what I’d love to do is link all of these songs so you can hear them, but I’d rather you go check out the movie. I’ll give you one though. I leave you with Let It Go!