“If/Then” presented by Stagecrafters at the Baldwin Theater, Royal Oak MI
Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (member, American Theatre Critics Association)
and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)
Photos courtesy of Stagecrafters
“If/Then” a Unique but Uneven Journey
“If/Then” is a modern urban musical, along the lines of “Rent”, about the consequences of the choices we make in life. A most unusual opportunity is given to a thirtysomething woman named Elizabeth: To explore the divergent roads leading from a seemingly inconsequential choice she makes one day. One choice leads her down the path of “Liz”; the other, down the path of “Beth”. The two paths lead her to either pursue a career, or love; to either have children, or an abortion; to either get married, or stay single. In the end, the result is what amounts to an unintended tradeoff – one life for another. Despite the serious theme, the show is at turns funny, raunchy, sarcastic and hip, much like the leading lady.
The part of Elizabeth/Liz/Beth was written especially for Tony-award winning Broadway superstar Idina Menzel (of “Rent” and “Wicked” fame). She carried the show to popular success, but critical reviews were mixed, although “If/Then” garnered a couple of Tony nods (no wins) for its Broadway debut in 2014.
There’s a nice musical score by Tom Kitt, with a couple of memorable numbers (“Here I Go”, “A Map of New York”). The book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey offer a unique premise and an inspirational story, with universal appeal that many people can identify with. The subject can be profound at times, but unfortunately, it can be confusing to keep track of who we are watching onstage, “Liz” or “Beth”. There’s a deeply ironic twist at the end that could lend a satisfying richness to the story, but it gets lost in the shuffle.
The four leads are Lynette Yeager as Elizabeth, Kaela Green as her friend Kate, Christopher Smith as Lucas and Jason Bowen, especially good as Josh. They all have excellent, strong voices and engaging characters. Yeager doesn’t give her two roles enough texture to really show the effect their different choices have had on them. You don’t always know if it’s Liz or Beth who’s pacing the stage, or belting that song. Some of the ensemble performers appear to be a bit stiff in their movement and delivery.
It’s obvious the cast and crew devoted much time and love to the show. While the overall effect is rather good, it’s possible Stagecrafters may have bitten off more than they can chew. Staging and blocking by director Rodel Salazar (“Sister Act”) creates a crowded stage at times. Use of multi-level platforms, or even staggering small groups of actors at different places from front to back, could give the scenes more depth and allow everyone to be seen. Transitions between Liz and Beth could be stronger, with use of different lighting, wardrobe or music cues. The too-static set design by Nick Yocum could use more variety, and relevance to the New York City locale, by making more effective scene changes and maybe use projections of cityscapes, etc. Choreography by Terri Manning was suitable but could be more energetic in places. The orchestra, conducted by Matt Kush, was pitch-perfect and unobtrusive.
The message of “If/Then” is that our choices do have consequences, and change us as people as we move through life. The show would be so much better if the script and staging could allow us to see more of the effects that Elizabeth’s choices have had on the personalities and behavior of her alter-egos, Beth and Liz. When they both behave pretty much the same, the message doesn’t quite come across.
When: Now through February 17, 2019
8:00 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays
2:00 p.m. Sundays
Tickets $23 to $27
Where: Baldwin Theatre, Main Stage
415 S. Lafayette
Royal Oak, MI 48067