Refreshingly Pragmatic, If/Then is a Musical About the Choices of Its Middle-Aged Heroine

Refreshingly Pragmatic, <i>If/Then</i> is a Musical About the Choices of Its Middle-Aged Heroine
Joan Marcus

It's a beautiful day in Madison Square Park, and Elizabeth (Idina Menzel) is planning her afternoon. Will she accompany Lucas (Anthony Rapp) to a fair-housing demonstration or join Kate (LaChanze) for coffee? Who cares, right?

Yet from this simple choice, endless consequences follow: romances found or forsaken, professional opportunities gained or lost. In Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's If/Then, a musical thought experiment, we witness two chains of events that present alternate fates for Elizabeth, a thirtysomething urban planner who's renounced a moribund marriage and moved to New York to start fresh. Menzel alternates gracefully between the two Elizabeths: One climbs the ranks of city government; the other falls in love.

If/Then is highly entertaining. It's also a star vehicle, hard to imagine without Menzel's magnetic presence. (The songs are unimaginative, the choreography hit-or-miss.) There are other lapses, too, like a facile subplot pitting Elizabeth's urban planning against Lucas's grassroots agitation.

But a clever ending avoids the fatalism that If/Then's double plot might imply — that's a lot of pressure to put on a single afternoon's whim, after all. And it's refreshing to see a Broadway musical about choices, not fairy-tale fates, with a heroine who's pushing 40 and forthrightly facing life's possibilities.

 
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