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BWW Review: IF/THEN - Captivating Tale of What Might Have Been, Now Thru Dec. 6

A patchwork of blues, pinks, purples, and blacks backlight a blocky map of New York City, which goes well with the theme of a show about the many different roads we can take in life. If/Then is a contemporary Broadway musical about living in New York today - and the possibilities of tomorrow. Playing now through December 6 at SHN Orpheum Theatre, If/Then is a captivating tale that simultaneously follows one woman's two potential life paths, painting a deeply moving portrait of the lives we lead, as well as the lives we might have led.

Now, to be completely honest, this is one show that I had not been keeping up with and from reading the trite synopsis about "possibilities of tomorrow" I was ready for an Idina Menzel showcase with a meager plot. I could not have been more wrong. With beautiful music by Tom Kitt and book and captivating lyrics by Brian Yorkey, If/Then intricately weaves together the two paths laid out before Elizabeth (the fabulous Idina Menzel).

One path leads "Liz" with friend Kate to a more relaxed attitude to life. She meets a handsome Army doctor and lands a professorship teaching architecture. Friend Kate is played brilliantly by LaChanze who I could have watched the entire show! Her energy and exuberance for the stage exploded in every line and note that fell from her mouth; enraptured is the only word to explain how truly awesome LaChanze's performance was.

On the other life path, "Beth" takes a more austere look at being. Instead of going with Kate, Beth goes with friend Lucas to a protest against a development project, but this in turn has Beth answering her phone and then accepting the deputy position that puts her in charge of the project she was there to protest with old friend Stephen. Lucas is played to perfection by RENT star Anthony Rapp. Rapp has a quirky appeal to him that audiences will find endearing and he has some great one-liners.

One of the most fascinating facets of this show was that, whether portraying Liz or Beth, you get to watch the character of Elizabeth unfold along with the characters she interacts with. On each different path, the characters intertwine with each other so that in fact the two separate roads taken intermingle with each other brilliantly.

Army doctor Josh (James Snyder) is delightfully charming and witty. His adorable wit and handsome face could melt any heart. He is the perfect strong, yet sweet, type. And then we get to Daren A. Herbert who played Stephen. Strong and masculine with chiseled looks, Herbert is a great counterpoint to Josh and they are both very interesting to watch on stage.

Set Designer Mark Wendland and Projection Designers Peter Nigrini and Dan Scully masterfully put the backdrop for these two tales together. Catwalks and fire escapes dropping from the eaves bring you into a Manhattan apartment while wall-less cubes rotate on a circular platform in the floor to create a multitude of rooms each with their own character. The projections (the astounding Peter Nigrini) in this show were just phenomenal. If you can drag your gaze away from the fantastic performers, then you will be dazzled by starry skies and the skyline of New York City. It is just plainly some of the best projection work that I have ever seen in a show.

This show really speaks to each one of us as human beings as we ask ourselves, "What if?" We all wonder about the different possibilities that we may come across and the things that could have been. There is not a person on this spinning ball of ours that hasn't wondered where their life could have led them if they had made different choices. If/Then dramatically and brilliantly shows us that we must be bold in life and emboldened by it. We don't know where life may lead anyway so we may as well go for broke.

If/Then
Book by Brian Yorkey
Music by Tom Kitt
Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Directed by Michael Greif
Now thru Dec. 6.
Orpheum Theatre
www.shnsf.com



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