'If/Then' at the National Theater
I went to see If/Then at the National Theater and did understand I was going to see a pre-Broadway try-out of a new musical. I left thinking spending $110 for the privilege seemed a little much. These pre-Broadway runs were something nearly all productions did when they would tour Boston then maybe D.C. or some other venues before heading to the Great White Way. But budgets have made that nearly impossible these days and the investments are so great that there is often the fear that the production will close to bad reviews even before it gets to Broadway.
I think the producers of If/Then made the right decision bringing the show to D.C. first. It clearly needs some work but there is a basic structure and cast that can make it a hit. I think they can comfortably cut 15 or 20 minutes from the show. But there are great positives. Idina Menzel as Elizabeth, Beth or Liz (depending on which story line is happening at the time) is a brilliant singer. I remember her best as Maureen in Rent and she has lost none of her luster. She can still belt out a song with the best of them. Near the end of the last act her solo, Starting Over, (think that is the name of the song as one of the problems with this show is there is no one standout song that you hum on the way out of the theater) is a tour-de-force. Actually I thought the show should have ended after she sang that number. LaChanze who most will remember for her Tony award winning performance in The Color Purple is great both as an actress and singer. Anthony Rapp as Lucas and James Snyder as Josh do themselves proud. Every time Rapp was onstage singing I did keep thinking of him with affection as the character he played in Rent.
The concept of the different story lines is good. The idea of people thinking about what their life would have been IF they had only made different choices in their careers or personal life THEN the world would look so different is universal. We all do that. The problem here is that they move so fast and somehow it takes a few minutes to adjust to the new story line and the show has moved on a little by the time you do. I think they could tighten this up with a little different lighting and movement. The set is generally wonderful. There is scaffolding galore reminiscent of the Next to Normal set and also of Rent and they have original ways of using it. But the use of reflecting glass that shows the set from above during some scenes just doesn’t have an apparent purpose. Then there is the dancing and while trying to focus on some of the individual dancers who seem great there is some dancing going on as background to songs that seems both not relevant and in some cases not even very good.
Again, I think there is a show here that will attract audiences. There is the universal theme and enough humor to entertain. One of the lines that got the most laughs was when Josh’s political leanings are referred to as neither Democratic nor Republican but rather he is an Independent. Someone then says that’s like being bi and suggests that he should just get over it and pick a side.
All in all the singing is great and the four lead actors are worth spending time with in the theater.