The show follows two possible story lines in the life of Elizabeth (Idina Menzel), a city planner who has moved back to New York to restart her life after the break up of a long-term relationship. When her meticulously designed new plans collide with the whims of fate, her life splits into two parallel paths.
The first storyline involves Elizabeth working closely with her best friend, who is a community activist fighting large-scale real estate development in New York. The second story entails Elizabeth becoming involved with an Iraqi war veteran and working for the New York City Department of City Planning. If/Then follows both paths simultaneously as Elizabeth faces the crossroads of choice and chance.
It's a rare show that becomes a true event on Broadway. Most have pages of publicity material and many minutes of radio and taxi cab advertisements to get the word out. In the case of If/Then, the only thing the producers needed, lucky them, to transform this material into an "event" was to get out the word about its star: Idina Menzel.
Menzel, now officially known worldwide as the voice of Elsa in the highest-grossing animated film of all time, Frozen, is what makes If/Then a true Broadway event. In her skin tight jeans and gloriously glossy hair, she shines in a show that - in terms of tight, specific storytelling - falls short of expectations. With a voice that shakes between insecurity and spectacular bravado, Menzel comes across as a Broadway veteran trying to hold the weight of a well-intentioned, but poorly plotted, show on her shoulders. It's as if every time she belts a high note, she's subliminally screaming, "I want to be in a better show!"
Supported by slick, shiny surfaces (set design by Mark Wendland) and with a gorgeous lighting palette (lighting design by Kenneth Posner), the plot of If/Then pushes Menzel forward (always, it seems, reluctantly) past friends (a particularly energetic LaChanze) and problems (an unexpected pregnancy) toward an uninspiring ending. Along the way, the problems she confronts aren't particularly unique, nor are they particularly worth singing about.
As sharp as the set, costumes, lighting, and casting are, the audience is still left feeling fuzzy about the eventual outcome (or two) of Elizabeth's life. If the show is trying to say that there is always a road not taken - and show us what happens if we did take it - what really comes across is that both roads are equally banal.
With music by Tom Kitt, and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey (both of Next to Normal acclaim), this reviewer was prepared for some powerful, contemporary melodies in front of a pop-rock beat. Yet the score never felt like it deepened the show - odd, for a musical. The choreography (by Larry Keigwin) and musical direction (Carmel Dean) felt grey and unfocused next to the glassy, glittery stage. At the end of act one, when you realize that - aside from Menzel - the star of the show has so far been the beautifully lit floor of the stage, it's a bit disappointing. And Michael Grief, a gifted director (Next to Normal, Grey Gardens, Rent) only muddles things more; it seems he's afraid to track both If/Then storylines too closely. What's needed is more organization, and more equal division among the two plot lines. Try as he might to keep things clear, tracking the story lines is still confusing and irritating.
In the opening seconds of the show, the curtain goes up and we see Menzel on an iron balcony high in the air. Her first words - the first words heard in the show - are spoken into her telephone. She mutters, in her husky alto: "Hi, it's me." To believe this show is a Broadway event, you need only to sit in the audience and hear its members scream back in response: "Hi, Idina!" while clapping crazily. If only the rest of the show was as energetic and entertaining.