Review Roundup: IF/THEN Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
Idina Menzel's back on Broadway! If/Then opened last night at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, with Tony winner Menzel leading the cast, which also features Anthony Rapp, LaChanze, James Snyder, Jerry Dixon, Jenn Colella, Jason Tam, Tamika Lawrence, and Jackie Burns.
If/Then is an original Broadway musical which reunites Tom Kitt (music), Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics), and Michael Greif (director), the creative team behind the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical, Next to Normal. If/Then is being produced by David Stone, who produced both Wicked and Next to Normal.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Peter Marks, The Washington Post: "The new "If/Then" is sleeker, smarter and runs far more efficiently than last year's ungainlier model, the one that had its test-drive in Washington last fall. Its heart is bigger now, too, a design modification that assures a more exhilarating ride. But it's also true that the "If/Then" that celebrated its official Broadway opening Sunday night at the Richard Rodgers Theatre had a number of flaws to address, and not all of them were eradicated in the months that this vehicle, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Next to Normal" team of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, was in the shop. The biggest issue was and is the show's narrative device, telling the story of a woman whose life goes in two directions, one focused on family, the other on career. It remains something of a conundrum, for the conceit comes across, even now, less as a scintillating invention than as an encumbrance...The bottom line: "If/Then" is an enjoyable, beautifully sung, at times deeply touching experience, built on a structure that never completely works."
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: ""If/Then," you see, is a portrait of alternative existences, of roads taken or not, of the person a person might have been if she had only done this instead of that. If that sounds confusing, don't worry. You may occasionally have trouble keeping the show's twin story lines separate. But you'll never be in any doubt whatsoever as to what the central theme is. That's because Mr. Kitt (music) and Mr. Yorkey (book and lyrics) never let us forget. Until the show's last quarter, when some shadows darken the bright emotional landscape, all the songs are pretty much interchangeable. Whether performed as solos or ensemble pieces, these numbers tend to percolate along, blithely and wonderingly, at the speed of circular thought. They also put to work every metaphor you've heard about the elements of fate, chance and choice that govern our lives...Taken separately, neither plot of "If/Then" is terribly compelling or distinctively drawn. Taken together, they feel less like variations on a theme than dogged reiterations of a theme."
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Yorkey's book and lyrics match the probing compassion of 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. As for the leading lady, Menzel seems both grounded and energized by the opportunity to play a grownup who learns that there really are no ever-afters. There is poignance in that discovery, but a sense of liberation as well, and If/Then captures both to moving, invigorating effect.
Jesse Green, NY Magazine: If/Then surely answers all those needs. You absolutely never know what is going to happen, right up to the last, surprisingly moving beat. You appreciate its addressing the central dilemma of career vs. family in a very direct way and then, quietly but completely, undermining it in the end. That it does all this while also looking as beautiful, and moving as smoothly, as any modern show could, with superior performances from top to bottom from a gorgeously multi-everything cast, are just some of the signs that the director Michael Greif is offering his finest work to date.
Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: As advertised, "If/Then" unfolds at the crossroad of "choice and chance." Problem is, that intersection is around the corner from banality and been-there-heard-this-before. If Menzel wasn't around with her big belt and mellow warmth, there would be no reason to visit at all.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: "Beautifully and accessibly scored, "If/Then" tracks its central character, an urban planner by trade, through two different sets of life choices. One involves kids and a traditional guy. The other features a bigger career but less cultivated, and thus more complex, romantic entanglements with the indecisive and conflicted (the choice between saving the world and liking Whole Foods being another dichotomy that confounds the Coldplay generation and thus infuses this show)..."If/Then" is, for sure, overstuffed with huge crises in both storylines, and since we're double-timing here, they cascade at times in Yorkey's book with dizzying, credibility-sapping rapidity. The expositional needs are intense, but once it's clear that we're tracking Elizabeth's happiness, or lack thereof, and once Kitt and Yorkey provide her with a blistering number about bad choices that she can sing in her bathroom, the audience is in Menzel's and the show's pocket."
Linda Winer, Newsday: "We are meant to feel a bit off-balance, a little disoriented, maybe even confused in parts of "If/Then" -- and that's the sharp point. In this intelligent, surprising, altogether original new musical, the main character is a 39-year-old divorced woman, Elizabeth, who returns to New York after 12 years as a wife in Phoenix. This is a fork-in-the-road show, a back-to-the-future entertainment in which we briefly see the consequences of different roads taken...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."
Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY 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, The Huffington Post: "The tonal difference between the two acts is striking. A whimsical comedy in the first is taken over by a series of tragedies and sadness. One of the best crafted scenes and songs - "The Moment Explodes" - will brings gasps, and not just because it's a bit too manipulative. It's set on a plane in trouble. Sometimes, real tragedies intrude on Broadway...Credit goes for attempting to explore parallel lives onstage and the acting is great. But a show with so much potential is marred by poor editing. So, the overall answer is, if you really, really need to see and hear Menzel, then go and watch an actress wonderfully giving it her all. But if you're of two minds, then go see "Frozen" and just listen to her voice."
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: "With her tear-the-house-down voice and commanding personality, Menzel has no trouble putting over her big power ballads. She absolutely soars in "Always Starting Over," the eleven o'clock number that closes this long show. But she's pressed to sing about existential matters in talky songs that are more analytical than emotional. And in "What the Fuck," she's put in the humiliating position of proving what a down-to-earth gal she is by using profanity to express her deep thoughts."
Robert Feldberg, NorthJersey.com: "If/Then" has its moments, but it is a letdown after Kitt and Yorkey's electrifying achievement with "Next to Normal." All you can say is that creating a great original musical is very hard and complicated and sometimes things just don't work out.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: "At a time when the majority of Broadway musicals are repackaged movies, processed jukebox assemblies or time-tested revivals, any original contemporary adult work deserves to be applauded for its ambition. But If/Then earns applause primarily for Idina Menzel...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...But the musical is really all about the blazing supernova at its center, Menzel, who may not scream vulnerability, but she has the spirit and charisma to carry even weak material."
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: "It's not confusing with all these stories; it's just all spread a little thin. And it's all a little too fast...Even so, it's an intriguing book, but one that Yorkey might tinker with beyond opening night, just as the books of "Merrily We Roll Along" and "Follies" went through many revisions after their respective Broadway premieres. In other words, see "If/Then" now so you can have the fun of making comparisons to its future revivals, of which there will be many."
Dave Quinn, NBC New York: "Audiences looking for their Menzel-fix in "If/Then" won't be disappointed; she spends almost all of the two and a half-hour show onstage. But the show's muddled plot might leave you wondering what the new musical, from the creators of "Next to Normal," is trying to say...rian Yorkey's ambitious-but-complicated book could use some major streamlining (especially one out-of-nowhere plane crash). His lyrics often read like they're pulled from chapters in a self-help book, and his need to run through plot prevents his characters from having moments of true discovery and growth."
Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: "The show's exploration of fate and chance seldom rises above Hallmark-card sentimentality - and the characters have no more depth...But as 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. With her feet planted on terra firma, she can shake the rafters and pierce your heart all at once."
David Cote, Time Out New York: "If you're getting Sondheim hot flashes-Merrily We Roll Along for its retrospective rue and Company for insights into urban singledom-you know where If/Then lives. It's a smart, contemporary piece for adults. It doesn't condescend-to its sympathetic and fallible same-sex couples, or to an Army reservist (James Snyder) for whom Liz falls...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. People are just too darn nice in If/Then's world. We need more bitchery and satire, more injustice for our hero to fight against, to inspire an anthem as thrilling (if as slick) as "Let It Go." Otherwise, we get a Choose Your Own Adventure that's not really venturesome."
Matt Windman, amNewYork: "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...Stylishly directed by Michael Greif on a sleek set containing a massive tilting mirror, "If/Then" may not be a triumph but it is contemplative, heartfelt and fashionable in a sanitized sort of way. And in light of Menzel's growing fan base, it could be a hit."
Photo by Joan Marcus