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If/Then Reviews: Idina Menzel Returns To Broadway

In “If/Then,” the new musical by the team that created Next To Normal, Idina Menzel returns to Broadway after a nine-year absence, playing Elizabeth, a city planner who returns to New York, faced with a choice: Should she pursue love, or try to make a difference in the world?

Her character chooses both — or rather, the creators of the musical split her character in half, Liz and Beth. Liz looks for love with Josh (James Snyder). Beth gets a job with the New York City Department of City Planning. The large cast also includes LaChanze and Anthony Rapp.

“If/Then” opens on March 30, 2014 — today. What did the critics think?

The critical consensus: Idina Menzel soars — or at least will be beloved by her fans — but the show is banal.

Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: In “If/Then,” Idina Menzel portrays two different versions of the same character Elizabeth, and at the beginning of the musical, I was feeling like two versions of myself as well.  Elizabeth as Liz pursues love, and as Beth goes after a career as a city planner, in order to try to make a difference in the world.  I, Jonathan, initially felt both like Joe and Nathan – as Joe, irritated at the premise, and as Nathan, excited by the promise of entertainment from so much proven stage talent,  with various past successes in Next to Normal, Rent and Wicked.

By the end, we (I) could agree: The way the premise plays out is more intelligent than it at first seems. The entertainers themselves deliver on their promise. It is terrific to see (and hear) Idina Menzel back on Broadway after an absence of nine years.  She is employed wisely — on stage nearly all the time, she’s given songs that emphasize character as much as vocal gymnastics; we must wait for the occasional  full-steam pop arias like “Always Starting Over”; making them all the more flooring.

But this is a story that would have worked better as a novel, or perhaps a serial on Netflix.

Ben Brantley, New York Times:  “antiseptic…all the songs are pretty much interchangeable…If/Then” more exactly resembles a Lifetime movie — or two Lifetime movies spliced together — the kind in which prominent television actresses, in between crime shows, portray women whose lives are forever altered. Taken separately, neither plot of “If/Then” is terribly compelling or distinctively drawn. Taken together, they feel less like variations on a theme than dogged reiterations of a theme.  Ms. Menzel, who brings an anxious intensity to a featherweight part, has an enviable fan base among young female audiences….

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press:  If you love Idina Menzel, then go see it — she tears the rafters off the theater while going through a mid-life crisis. But if you like smooth, tight shows, then find something else to do.

Elizabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: “If/Then” would be DOA without Idina Menzel. The star holds this ambitious but unwieldy show together. Actually, she does more than that: She gathers a bunch of messy parts, and gives them life, emerging triumphant in the process….Director Michael Greif (“Rent,” “Next to Normal”) does the best he can to keeps things moving, but the book is overstuffed with extraneous songs and subplots.

Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News, 3 stars: Idina Menzel elevates the whole enterprise from a two-star review to respectable mediocrity. That’s a lucky break for Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s platitude- and cliché-clogged work, directed by Michael Greif. Hard to believe that’s the same team whose “Next to Normal,” about a family in crisis, rang with so much resonance.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today, 3 1/2 stars: Both Liz and Beth experience doubt, anger and humiliation, and confront mortality in stark terms. But If/Then‘s message is an affirming one…reinforced in Tom Kitt’s score, his most consistent and rousing to date — enhanced by Michael Starobin’s robust orchestrations and the bright, bold harmonies provided for Annmarie Milazzo’s vocal arrangements — and by a production that keeps its players in constant, vibrant motion….Menzel seems both grounded and energized by the opportunity to play a grownup

Peter Marks, Washington Post: If/Then” is an enjoyable, beautifully sung, at times deeply touching experience, built on a structure that never completely works.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety:  The star of ‘Frozen’ and ‘Wicked’ soars in her Broadway return, but this over-intellectualized new musical from the ‘Next to Normal’ duo falls flat.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter:  Maybe/Not. The good news is that the erstwhile Adele Dazeem looks and sounds sensational in a vehicle tailored to her talents, leaving no mystery as to why the audience adores her. The disappointing news, however, is that while it’s sweet and sincere, this is also a banal show about uninteresting people that strings together weary platitudes in place of a plot.

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: B- “the show’s exploration of fate and chance seldom rises above Hallmark-card sentimentality — and the characters have no more depth….While composer Tom Kitt’s tunes are pleasant enough — Menzel’s comedic ”What the F—?” is a standout — his score pales compared to Next to Normal, his memorable 2010 Pulitzer winner with Brian Yorkey….The real star here is Idina Menzel, and she delivers a powerful bipolar performance that often masks the shallowness of the material.”

Elizabeth Wollman, Show Showdown:  …a dynamite cast headed up by the bona-fide Broadway star Idina Menzel; a strong supporting cast…The score, which bears some strong similarities to that for Normal, reflects real growth by Kitt–whose bouncy, contemporary melodies are perfectly suited to Menzel’s distinctive brass…If/Then has a lot of imagination and a lot of talent behind it. It thus pains me to say that I found it to be an overcooked, ponderous, frustrating musical. ..the characters in If/Then are not all that interesting.”

Dave Quinn, NBC New York: Audiences looking for their Menzel-fix in “If/Then” won’t be disappointed; she spends almost all of the two and a half-hour show onstage. But the show’s muddled plot might leave you wondering what the new musical, from the creators of “Next to Normal,” is trying to say…The supporting cast of “If/Then” is equally strong, especially Tony-winner LaChanze”

David Cote, Time Out New York: 3 stars:   It’s a smart, contemporary piece for adults….Idina Menzel imbues her character with maximum pluck and vulnerability. But for all the charisma of the lead and ensemble, Tom Kitt’s score blurs into similar-sounding midtempo pop ballads. Menzel carries the show but can’t force us to care about Liz/Beth’s average life choices….underwhelming.”

Matt Windham, amNewYork: 3 stars “…despite nagging issues with its overall concept and divided story lines, it is a smart, romantic piece with a well-crafted soft rock score and great performances all around.”

Matthew Murray, Talkin’ Broadway “…in attempting to demonstrate how easily one decision can take us down pathways we’d never planned, composer Kitt and librettist-lyricist Yorkey have delivered two half-stories that equal less than one full show. Though this outcome is at least partially intentional, the totality of it fails to completely jell.”

More reviews as they become available. In the meantime, here are a dozen photographs of the production.

 

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

 

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About New York Theater
Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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