Watch my Musical Minute Review of “If/Then”!
Usually a Broadway star has one classic role. One defining moment. Not Idina Menzel. She has several. She broke out in Rent in the 1990s and “Seasons Of Love” became one of the biggest Broadway songs since. Then there’s the juggernaut Wicked. She originated the role of Elphaba and won a Tony for it. There was a little song called “Defying Gravity” that came out of that show that seemed like it would be Idina’s permanent “song”. Well, then there was a film called Frozen that came out last year, where Idina sang the (tailor-made for Broadway) “Let It Go”. You don’t need me to tell you that the song has become a pop cultural phenom. So Idina continues to ride this incredible wave, and taken that wave back to the Broadway stage in If/Then. It’s a new musical and marks Idina’s return to the stage in over 10 years.
If/Then would crumble if it weren’t for Idina. It’s not that great. After the first few numbers, you wonder if even Idina will be able to rise above this convoluted material. The first few songs have trouble finding their rhythm as they try to fit in so much expository dialogue. Idina plays Elizabeth and in a Sliding Doors-like scenario, we see how one choice can send her life in 2 different directions: one as Liz, one as Beth. Visually, the change in character means Idina wear glasses as Liz, she does not as Beth. It also means Idina is often running off stage and quickly changing outfits (which mostly consists of a blazer change), and on the night I saw it, Idina was often coming back on still fixing her clothes. Even she seemed flustered and underwhelmed by her surroundings.
The production design is extremely underwhelming. A scene on a subway is created with just wooden chairs, same goes for an airplane scene. An apartment scene just consists of a door, a couple wooden frames, and a chair. It looks like the set of a travelling production. Not one that has taken up residency on Broadway showcasing one of its biggest stars.
But at least once If/Then has gotten through its endless setup halfway through the first act, the story becomes more intimate and it just lets Idina do her thing. Starting with “What The F***?” (it’s pretty funny hearing Elsa swear), it really starts to showcase Idina. She soars on “Here We Go”, a sweet duet with James Snyder. It’s really the second act that things really gel. Idina seems more at ease with the meatier material, and she’s devastating on “I Hate You”, “You Learn To Live Without”, and the big show closer, “Always Starting Over”. She performed it on the Tony Awards, but it’s a whole other thing seeing Idina do it live. It’s extremely powerful, and Idina’s voice just pierces. Those notes! I have a feeling this floors the audience every night. It’s a moment that could easily fit alongside Idina’s arsenal of “Let It Go”, “Defying Gravity” and “Seasons Of Love”, and that’s a pretty big praise.
Once Idina leaves the show for her world tour, I’m not sure how If/Then will continue, unless they get another big star to do it. The story never really clicks, and only really works when it showcases Idina. She has an undeniable star quality that shines, even performing underwhelming material.