If/Then

Music by Tim Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Richard Rodgers Theatre, New York

If/Then

It is rare to see a West End or Broadway musical that has so obviously been built around its star as If/Then.

Without wishing to diminish the talents or contributions of her fellow cast members, this is the Idina Menzel Show from start to finish. As a reminder, this is the lady who first played Elphaba in Wicked in London and more recently lent her voice to Disney in Frozen.

Indeed, it is almost the double Idina show since, in a variant on the ever-popular oppositional twins theme, she plays two sides of the same coin in that other favourite, the alternative lives story.

In this case, Elizabeth is in a New York park with friends and arrives at a critical moment. From there, we follow the parallel but separate paths of Liz and Beth with and without the decision.

These show the potential of us all to enjoy or suffer different experiences as a result of pivotal decisions or serendipity.

While this concept works well on film and in novels, there is a major problem on stage. The differentiation between characters and stories is achieved with little more than a pair of (admittedly wide-rimmed) glasses.

With no more assistance, viewers are asked to follow Liz (or is that Beth) who is a high-powered town planning executive as she fights off a lecherous boss, climbs the career ladder and struggles to build a relationship.

At the same time, her alter ego is a teacher who meets a soldier-doctor and enjoys a happy marriage with children and supportive friends.

Common to both stories are those friends, broadly two gay couples, one male the other female.

It might sound easy to follow, but keeping track of who is doing what in which story is a challenge and this detracts from the appreciation of some spectacular singing of pop songs.

Rarely can one feel comfortable, especially as so many characters drift between plots to compound the confusion.

On the plus side, Miss Menzel sings her heart out injecting humour in songs such as “What the Fuck” and bringing the audience to fever pitch as she belts out “Always Starting Over” at the end.

Supporting her, Anthony Rapp is suitably kooky as activist best friend Lucas (gay and not gay), while LaChanze as Kate combines a fine soul voice with a strong sense of humour. She also delivers a strong duet, “Love While You Can” with her wife, Jenn Collella’s Anne.

If/Then, which comes from the team behind Next to Normal, is a great idea that doesn’t come off theatrically but does showcase the star quality of Idina Menzel.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher