BWW Review: IF/THEN at Winspear Opera House

BWW Review: IF/THEN at Winspear Opera HouseWhen IF/THEN debuted on Broadway in March 2014, it reunited original RENT stars Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp with RENT director Michael Grief. Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, whose 2008 rock musical NEXT TO NORMAL had received the Pulitzer Prize, wrote the much-anticipated show, and the theatre community celebrated the team's brisk New York return. Although the show received mostly mixed-to-positive reviews, it lasted a mere 430 performances, despite mother-daughter duos flocking to see Menzel upon the icy heels of FROZEN's success.

In October of 2015, the musical launched a national tour starring Menzel, bringing a large number of the New York cast members along for the ride. Although a couple of the Broadway veterans (including Anthony Rapp) currently remain with the show, the Dallas tour stop marks the launch of a handful of new stars in the principal roles. The question still to be answered: despite strong performances from the newcomers, can the disjointed material survive without a household name above the title?

Set in "the recent past," IF/THEN is the story of recent divorcée Elizabeth and her fresh start in NYC. Identifying her by two different nicknames (Liz and Beth), the complicated story flip flops between potential realities to follow her life based on the choices she makes in a series of different situations. Like any trendy "chick flick" film, the plot deals with falling in and out of love, sassy gay friends, sex, parenting, and loss.

At times, though - and in Act One especially - the plot contains so many supporting characters and subplots that the Jekyll and Hyde-like scenes (where the lead switches back and forth from Liz to Beth) can be a struggle to keep up with. And although the show narrowly succeeds in finding its footing in Act Two (largely thanks to the show's star nailing some moving ballads), I found myself frequently disconnected from the story...and less-than-interested in keeping up. The fatal flaw of the show, for me, was the writers' decision to musicalize moments that could otherwise be communicated in a few short words.

Jackie Burns, IF/THEN's new leading lady, stars as Elizabeth. Although last night's performance marked her tour opening of the show, Burns previously appeared with the original Broadway company as Menzel's stand-by (understudy), performing periodically and with minimal rehearsal. Fortunately, Burns not only has pipes to rival Menzel's epic belt, but her ability to give depth to her character(s) far exceeds her predecessor, for whom the show was famously written. Her eleven o'clock power ballad, "Always Starting Over," was inarguably the highlight of the show.

In addition to Burns, the rest of the company deliver solid performances: Tamyra Gray (Kate) and Matthew Hydzik (Josh) both have excellent chemistry with Elizabeth's contrasting alter egos, and their voices shine on their respective songs. When Janine DiVita (Anne) is able to steal the spotlight, her epic voice adds new life to the show, particularly in Act Two's "Love While You Can." Anthony Rapp's performance (as Lucas) may not stray far from his work in RENT, but his portrayal as Beth's bisexual best friend still manages to be charming.

IF/THEN won't be everyone's cup of tea. In fact, I'm not sure who the target audience might be. Unfortunately, the payoff for following the chaotic plot(s) ultimately falls short, but kudos to Kitt and Yorkey for creating a new work (especially when recent years have delivered endless revivals, movies-to-musicals, and jukebox hits). Fortunately, the beauty of theatre is that each performance is unique, and every audience member is likely to respond differently to the material.

If you're interested in giving a new musical a shot, the company of IF/THEN is passionately performing this fresh material at Winspear Opera House through January 31st. Tickets and more information is available at www.ATTPAC.org.

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From This Author Kyle Christopher West

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