Howard

Howard’s Event Journal

If/Then

Ifthen-920x520
Wednesday November 6, 2013 / 7:30pm
If/Then
2 tickets
Balcony (Rows A-D)
1321 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20004

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"If/Then": a terrible title, to begin with. This is a musical that largely wastes the considerable talent of a wonderful group of performers, all with great voices. No one I've recently seen commands the musical theater stage like Idina Menzel. Her voice, and dramatic style of singing, are breathtaking (and the audience, deservedly, loves her). The direction and sets are very good, and Ms. Menzel is supported by a wonderful supporting cast. BUT: this musical comes across as little more than "Rent, 15 Years Later" with babies, gay marriage, characters living in, and building, expensive housing, and an inside view of today's urban development. In fact, Anthony Rapp's character is virtually the same person he played in Rent, except older, bi-sexual, and a writer rather than a filmmaker. In many ways, Idina and Anthony, who were both so compelling in Rent, really have little dramatically to do with each other. And we want to care about them (and the guy Idina marries and has kids with), but the book of the musical makes that very difficult. She's a hot-shot city planner in NYC, he's the social activist (there's even a protest gas mask scene!). We simply aren't given the chance to really care about these characters. They (and kindergarten teacher LaChanze, who has great vocol chops and stage presence), are "characters' we can't really feel empathy for. At no point are our hearts moved by what happens, or could happen, to any of them. There are scenes (like the inside of an airplane before it crashes) that make little sense and probably should be deleted). Additional scenes could clearly be cut, reducing the tedium that comes from an almost 3-hour play. The "plot" (and there isn't much) seems to be how the lead character is torn about which direction in life to take. That plot contains little, if any, dramatic tension. Worse, there are scenes that confuse, basically aboout the lead character's sex life, or impulses, with multiple men. Although very contemporary (especially, I imagine, if one lives in today's NYC and if one is a young urban professional), and staged interestingly, it is a musical that is sadly without a story that will command our attention and sympathy. Now, I'm in my late 60's, and a 20 or 30-something audience member (especially one who is a relative novice to musicals) may have a different view. If If/Then (there's that terrible title again) finds that audience in New York, it could be a success, and I predict a Tony nomination for Idina. For me, I was expecting far more. The music is not memorable (although nicely orchestrated), the plot is (and I'm real sorry to say this) banal, and one doesnt leave the theater with a memory other than: those singers are sure terrific. Well, its official "opening" here in D.C. is not until late in November, and it doesn't open in NYC until March, so there's time to hopefully "fix" what's wrong. -- Howard

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