If/Then takes a bite out of the Big Apple at the Oriental Theatre
If/Then is a valentine to NYC. Like the vibrant, raw city that pulses with energy 24/7, this Broadway in Chicago revival celebrates universal human experiences, connections and disconnects, in friendship, love, loss and career. As the lead, Elizabeth (Jackie Burns) ponders, “You wonder about the turns you don’t take.”
Running through March 6 at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre, If/Then reunites composer Tom Kitt, lyricist Brian Yorkey and director Michael Greif, the creative team behind the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning musical, Next to Normal.
The supporting cast includes Elizabeth’s college friend Lucas (Joliet native Anthony Rapp), new friend Kate (irrepressible American Idol alumna, Tamyra Gray) boyfriend/husband Josh (Matthew Hydzik), boss Stephen (Daren Herbert) and Kate’s girlfriend, Anne (Janine DiVita).
The lively, contemporary musical—brimming with gritty NYC subway stations, the iconic High Line and yogis in the park—follows Elizabeth, a city planner who returns to New York to rebuild her life in the city of infinite possibilities. Recreating her life after divorce and edging towards 40, Elizabeth traces two parallel paths—one for love and one for career. As “Liz”, she unexpectedly finds love and motherhood. As “Beth”, she rapidly advances in her urban planning career. The rest of the musical depicts the alternate paths Elizabeth’s life could take.
While the cast is solid, Kate particularly wowed me, owning the stage and the conviction that life is for the taking. Along those lines, Kate convinces Liz to open her heart to a stranger named Josh she meets in Madison Square Park. Josh becomes the love of her life and her children’s father. The apparently insignificant choice of which person to follow that day—Kate to hear a musician play in Brooklyn or Lucas to a housing protest—slices the story in two, leading Elizabeth and us down two parallel arcs over the years. Think “Sliding Doors” but with more songs and supporting characters.
Decision time: “Beth” chooses to attend the protest. En route, she takes a call from a friend who offers her a plum urban planning job with the city, allowing her to pursue her career bliss. “Liz” stays at the park and meets Josh, an Army reservist and doctor. As the stories progress, both Beth and Liz experience the highs and lows of happiness and sorrow, success and failure. Unsurprising, yet raw and real.
While challenging to follow the two paths (Elizabeth wears glasses as “Liz” and removes them as “Beth”), patience is rewarded as the story builds and reminds us that it’s not just coincidence, but our approach to life that makes all the difference. Like living in NYC, this constant back and forth keeps us on our toes. And Burns’ dramatic, soaring vocals in the closing “Always Starting Over” are worth the wait.
In Chicago and New York, local color runs deep. From transit lines to transitions—which direction will you choose in your life?
Through March 6 at The Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. Tickets: broadwayinchicago.com or 800.775.2000, $25-$98.
Showtimes: Tuesday-Friday, 7:30 p.m., Saturday 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Photo by Joan Marcus.