Saturday, April 5, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: IF/THEN

Idina Menzel. Photo: Joan Marcus
If the Writers of a Pulitzer-Prize Winning Musical Write Another One, Then It will Be a Hit, right?
By Lauren Yarger
If one thing happens, then another thing follows, or if you could have made a different choice, then the outcome of your whole life could be changed.

That’s the thought process behind IF/THEN a new musical from the Next to Normal team of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorgey, starring Idina Menzel . Menzel is Elizabeth, a woman who returns to New York after a failed marriage and an exile to Arizona where she she taught about urban planning, but never actually did any. She makes choices one day in a park that change the course of her life.

As Beth, she doesn’t take a call about a dream job, and instead, meets soldier Josh (James Snyder) who is home after his second tour overseas.  They fall in love, get married, have kids and come to grips with his being called for another tour of duty, but Beth wonders what might have been if she had pursued her career dreams instead of choosing to take a teaching job and raise a family.

As Liz, she does take that call and lands a job in city planning with old friend  Stephen (Jerry Dixon). She  ends up settling  for a short-term romantic entanglement with best friend, Lucas (Adam Rapp), and takes a risk by making a play for married Stephen. She experiences career success, but wonders what might have been if she’d experienced love and had kids.

The story premise gets high marks. There aren’t too many women who don’t wonder about these scenarios and many of us can relate to Elizabeth's trying to analyze every decision because she fears  that IF she makes the wrong choice, THEN the course of her life will be altered. 

As Elizabeth creates two separate lives, her choices also affect those closest to her. In one life, she ends up being the focus of Lucas’ affections and in the other, the bisexual man finds love with David (Jason Tam). In one life, her quirky neighbor, Kate (a sparkling LaChanze), and her lover, Anne (Jenn Colella) find happiness; in another they don’t. The parallel lives are mirrored, literally, in a reflective surface above the set (designed by Mark Wendland) which also incorporates the lines of the subway connecting the streets and lives in the city being planned by Liz – at least in one life).

The story never quite satisfies, however, as the book by Yorkey never makes reality clear. Perhaps leaving the questions of whether Beth is real, dreaming about what it would be like to be Liz or vice versa is intentional, but we can’t help wanting to know. Indeed, the rambling plot almost seems to open the possibility for a third scenario, but by that point, we really just wanted a big finish and some profound message after the almost three-hour journey.

The score, highly operatic, like Next to Normal, swings between a rock sound and some nice ballads – Josh’s song when he becomes a father is very moving as is Menzel’s leap of faith into her relationship with him. The songs always have plenty of opportunity for Menzel to belt. In fact, there’s too much belting here and the effect is lost on deserving numbers as we get tired of hearing Elizabeth’s nasal yelling, (which sounded like it was taking its toll vocally).

A few times vocal mixes sounded off (Carmel Dean, musical direction; Annmarie Milazzo, vocal arrangements) and a duet between LaChanze and Colella really doesn’t work (though LaChanze gets the crowd going with a couple of solos).

Michael Greif directs the uneven production. Larry Keigwin choreographs and Emily Rebholz designs the costumes.

Even if our disappointment comes from expecting an unfair result from the Pulitzer-Prize winners (IF they won a Pulitzer last time, THEN this show would be great, right?), it is fueled by an unfinished feeling. There’s a great idea here and some really nice music. IF only it could be developed a bit more. THEN we’d have a winner.

IF/THEN plays at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 West 46th St., NYC.

Christians might also like to know:
--God's name taken in vain
--Homosexual activity

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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