The Path Not Taken
If/Then, now on stage at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre, is a “what if?” story. A 30-something woman is reflecting on her life and reviewing the choices she made and the chances she took. Interestingly, this musical shows the two different paths her life may have taken based on decisions Elizabeth made on one particular day when she returns to New York to live.
We see, scene by scene, two parallel lives: In one, her friends call her Beth. She goes to an interview and lands a position as an urban planner, following a challenging but successful career path. Along the way, she hurts her old friend Lucas and has a flirtation with a married colleague.
In the other life, as Liz, she meets an army doctor, recently returned from two tours of duty. She teaches urban planning, marries the doctor and they have two kids. Lucas and his husband are good friends, as are another couple, Kate and Anne.
As we follow the two paths, we don’t know which is the one actually taken, and which is the “what if”. In the final scene we get a glimpse of what the reality may have been.
Act one can be confusing as the story shifts between the two “ifs” and until you get the rhythm of the changes, it might be difficult to follow. I found myself trying to hear if she is called Beth or Liz. An astute theatre companion pointed out at intermission, that when she is Beth, the career woman, the stage is lit is blue and green colours, but when she is Liz, the wife and mother, the stage is lit in reds and oranges. The distinct colour changes made act two much easier to follow.
Jackie Burns is excellent as Elizabeth. Idina Menzel created the role on Broadway (she’s also famous for Let It Go from Frozen), and Burns is a good clone of Menzel. She sings the beautiful songs with power and poignancy. Matthew Hydzik as the doctor, Josh, has a rich voice. His song You Never Know is outstanding, as is Hey Kid, which he sings to his baby son.
The progress of the two separate stories reminds me of the musical The Last Five Years, and the interaction of the friends on stage is reminiscent of the hit musical Rent. In fact, in this production of If/Then, Anthony Rapp, the star of both the Broadway show and the movie Rent, plays Lucas. Rapp is excellent as both Beth’s rejected, hurt friend, and as Liz’s happy companion. Rapp rocks Ain’t No Man Manhattan. The ensemble backs up the singing beautifully and provides interesting choreography.
While the idea of living two separate lives as the result of one decision is obviously far-fetched, some of the dialogue is also contrived. But if we’re going to accept the entire premise, then we’ll have to suspend belief when it comes to some situations and comments.
This musical leaves the audience with food for thought. Not only do you wonder about Elizabeth’s different paths taken or not, you start to question your own life’s choices. We can always wonder if, then what?
If/Then continues with eight shows a week at Ed Mirvish Theatre until May 8. Call Ticket King 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets.
Photo: Jackie Burns as Liz and Matthew Hydzik as Josh in If/Then. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Book & Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Music by Tom Kitt
Directed by Michael Greif
Choreographed by Larry Keigwin
Musical Supervisor Carmel Dean
Performed by Jackie Burns, Anthony Rapp, Tamyra Gray, Matthew Hydzik, Janine DiVita, Daren A. Herbert, Marc Delacruz et al.
Presented by David Mirvish
Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto
April 12 to May 8, 2016
Reviewed by Mary Alderson