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Review Roundup: ‘If/Then’

If/Then, the new musical from the team behind Next to Normal, opened on March 30 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Tony winner Idina Menzel (Wicked) stars as Elizabeth, a recently divorced urban planner moving to New York City for a fresh start. The plot splits into two separate, parallel storylines. In one, the heroine follows her heart while in the other she focuses on her career. The music is by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, and direction by Michael Greif. All served in the same functions for Normal which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 and three Tony Awards in 2009. Also starring are Tony winner La Chanze (The Color Purple, Once on This Island), Anthony Rapp (Rent), James Snyder (Cry-Baby), Jerry Dixon (tick…tick…BOOM!), Jenn Colella (Chaplin), and Jason Tam (A Chorus Line).

The critics universally loved Idina Menzel while most found the two-tiered story confusing and uninteresting. Many compared Yorkey’s book to the similarly-themed 1998 film Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow. Linda Winer of Newsday was one of the few who enjoyed the off-kilter storyline, calling the show “intelligent, surprising, altogether original.” Menzel, on a hot streak after his performance of “Let It Go” from Frozen at the Oscars, came in for kudos. (Almost every reviewer mentioned John Travolta’s mangling her name at the awards ceremony and how it garnered her more publicity.) David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter cheered that she “looks and sounds sensational in a vehicle tailored for her talents.” Here are excerpts from the major critics.

 

Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp in 'If/Then' on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp in ‘If/Then’ on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Ben Brantley, New York Times
“Taken separately, neither plot of If/Then is terribly compelling or distinctively drawn.… Yet I suspect this show, which has been doing solid business in previews, will have no trouble finding an audience. Ms. Menzel, who brings an anxious intensity to a featherweight part, has an enviable fan base among young female audiences.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“A decade since she won a Tony for playing the green witch in Wicked, the soulful Menzel is still defying gravity—and lending some when needed. She elevates the whole enterprise from a two-star review to respectable mediocrity.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“New Broadway musical If/Then would be DOA without Idina Menzel. The star holds this ambitious but unwieldy show together. Actually, she does more than that: She gathers a bunch of messy parts, and gives them life, emerging triumphant in the process.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“An uneven—maybe not completely finished—show opened Sunday at the Richard Rodgers Theatre with an intriguing, ambitious premise and a leading lady with a shockingly good voice, but a clumsy story and too few impressive songs.”

Linda Winer, Newsday
“Greif’s gleaming, inventive production has lots of moving parts, including double-decker sets by Mark Wendland that add more levels with a mirror that adds layers of ceiling and sky. Disorienting? Indeed, but in attractive, unpredictable ways.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“Yorkey’s book and lyrics match the probing compassion of [Next to] Normal without indulging in that show’s preciousness. The characters here are more accessible and likable, from James Snyder’s rugged but tender Josh to Anthony Rapp’s wry Lucas, Elizabeth’s longtime friend. LaChanze brings infectious verve to the role of Kate, a lesbian schoolteacher who evolves from a stock comic-buddy type into a compelling individual.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“This smaller-than-life show can’t extinguish Menzel’s larger-than-life persona, but it certainly diminishes her Amazonian strengths as a performer.”

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
“The disappointing news, however, is that while it’s sweet and sincere, this is also a banal show about uninteresting people that strings together weary platitudes in place of a plot. Or make that two demi-plots.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“[A]s even John Travolta must know by now, the real star here is Menzel, and she delivers a powerful bipolar performance that often masks the shallowness of the material. In her triumphant final ballad, ‘Always Starting Over,’ she proves she doesn’t need to defy gravity to win over fans.”

David Cote, Time Out New York
“Menzel imbues her character with maximum pluck and vulnerabilty. But for all the charisma of the lead and ensemble, Kitt’s score blurs into similar-sounding midtempo pop ballads. Menzel carries the show but can’t force us to care about Liz/Beth’s average life choices.”

Matt Windman, AM New York
“As one of the few new musicals not based on a familiar film or pop song catalog (or anything else for that matter), If/Then certainly is a breath of fresh air. And despite nagging issues with its overall concept and divided story lines, it is a smart, romantic piece with a well-crafted soft rock score and great performances all around.”

David Finkle, Huffington Post
“Throughout their score, songwriters Kitt and Yorkey give their favorite belter abundant opportunities to tilt her head back, open her mouth until it resembles the looming entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel and aim piercing high notes at the Richard Rodgers ceiling.”

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