The “If/Then” Impact on DC Theater

Thursday night was a balmy 63 degrees and The National Theatre was 90% filled to capacity with a healthy rage of theater goers–young girls who’d grown up on Wicked–40-somethings on the older side of being Rent-Heads–and then the Kennedy Center herd come to see the latest commercial offering–all there to take in Idena–that Wicked Witch All Grown Up and ten years since her Tony— Idina Menzel Above The Title, holding together a wild if unbelieveably complicatedly-plotted musical all by herself in the world premiere of the Tom Kitt/Brian Yorkey’s If/Then. IdinaMenzel_National TheatreWe were four floors up at The National, on our last week of theater-going, our UM/UC/ND student subscribers and me, experiencing the exact opposite of “intimate theater” (no Apple Family immediacy up in the Nose Bleed section). This was “Showtime.”  A brand new musical. Smash and Glee and a 21st Century aforementioned Rent made singable for the Age of Gay Marriage. You’ll hear about the show in a second in the Comments.  Most of our group seemed to love it. Some didn’t. One hated it, I know that for sure. Which makes a horse race, right?

As the evening ended and over 1,200  poured  onto the streets in another DC-on-the-verge-of-Becoming moment that reminded me of magical nights coming out of the MCI Center (now the Verizon Phonebooth) when Michael Jordan was new in town—before that experiment had soured—when the city was grooving; folks from all stripes and walks hitting the streets en masse after an electric game, all of us, it seemed, on our way to the Chop House and for a moment, feeling like we were in New York spilling out of The Garden—once again Mci_center_jan2006aDC had it going on this temperate theater night; we were a Happening Spot sporting a major commercial venture Bound For Broadway. (And maybe this time, the magic will linger a lot longer than MJ’s tenure in DC). If/Then Producer David Stone was finding a way for DC audiences to buy into something new, untested, with an amazingly talented company, and building up an impressive war-chest of an advance. Michael Greif was back in town too. You’ll remember Michael directed Rent at New York Theatre Workshop, and Betty Rules! Off-Broadway at The Zipper and later at Theater J, twice… And before all that, he’d directed an early version of my coming-of-age plays Giant Shadows (which would go onto become Andy and The Shadows) and Private Lessons (which would be expanded to become Oh, The Innocents, later directed by Wicked’s Joe Mantello). So Greif was back, big actors too, big producer, big coverage, and tons of audience showing up. Culturally, DC was full of possibility Thursday night. And remains so.

But a juggernaut like If/Then turns out to have  not only an inspiring effect on our theatergoing community. It also sucks up a lot of air, demanding a lot of time, press attention, digital ink, and audience money. And so our non-commerical, local  producing outfit  wonders whether If/Then has indeed been holding the spotlight to the detriment of local offerings. After countless fall previews, features, and blog posts about the show, we have to ask if other straight plays and chamber musicals have lost out in the process, while If/Then–the big Work-in- Progress–profits handsomely. The show, which may or may not prosper on The Great White Way when it opens there in March, has done big business here. While our fall shows, may be performing beautifully, but financially they’re under-selling. On that same balmy Thursday night with so many spilling out of the National or attending the new Malcom Jamal Warner revival at Arena, our Helen Hayes Award winning production of Woody Sez played to our tiniest audience of the season. Of many a season. Was it an aberration? A freaky Thursday where Woody’s anti-corporate message  got trounced by Glee-driven commercialism? As Marvin Gaye used to say, “What’s Going On?”

Let’s ask that about If/Then. What Is Going On in this crazy, inventive, confusing plot that Brian Yorkey’s put together? I’d like our intelligent young folks to sort that out. For us.  For me. I mean, I liked it, but I didn’t buy it. I wish this musical very well, and hope they make that plot more cleverly crucial before it hits Broadway. Unknown-7

But I won’t be too sad when this juggernaut  leaves town. Of course, much more commercial fare is on the way to take its place. The challenges of drawing new audience to the non-commercial will remain ever so challenging.  Onward to meet the task!


31 thoughts on “The “If/Then” Impact on DC Theater

  1. Going into “If/Then”, I was not quite sure what to expect, but I found it to be one of my most enjoyable theater-going experiences thus far this semester. One of the greatest strengths of the play for me was its narrative. Although just slightly confusing at the beginning, I soon found it to be quite interesting. The different choices and lives that Elizabeth winds up both seem to be entirely plausible and for me highlight the many different outcomes that are available to each of us. Building off this theme, the lack of fatalism in the play and its emphasis on free agency was also an idea that I found to be quite intriguing. The idea that people hold their futures in their own hands, that they are not confined by a plethora of other factors such as where they were born or how much money they make, was an idea that I find to be very interesting and one which I thought that the play communicated exceptionally well.

    In addition to this, I also felt that the play touched on a variety of socially and/or politically controversial topics and situations in a manner that was very realistic and deftly illustrated the complications that some of those situations or topics can bring about. From discussing the death of Liz’s husband to examining just how far Beth was willing to go to sustain and further her career and political success,” If/Then” glided from topic to topic, situation to situation, almost effortlessly illustrating the many dark corners of each. I also greatly enjoyed the musical aspect of the production and felt that it greatly strengthened the emotion and tension in the play. From “Learn to Live Without” to Idina Menzel’s profanity laced turning point in the first act, I found each of the songs from the play to be exceptional and feel that they made what could have been a great play into a wonderful piece of musical theater.

    • Joe, I would agree with you that this musical did an excellent job of exploring “the many dark corners of [each challenge]”. I had not thought about it while we watched the show, but now as I think about it, it truly was incredible how the playwright did so! It covered jobs, romantic relationships, spousal disloyalty, outcomes of sex, new life, death, same-sex relationships, divorce, and more. During intermission, either Szymon or Devin predicted that in the second act, we would see a retelling of “The Argument”, thinking that Beth would choose to have an abortion. I think we all chuckled when Lucas confronts Beth about the abortion and the conversation did end up resembling the Philip and Sophie’s argument in a way. However, this was just one of the dark corners that Beth navigated in her life, and it reminds us that we each have many situations in our own lives that are not pleasant and require a choice to be made.

  2. I LOVE MUSICALS! I couldn’t be happier that we had a chance to see a musical at the end of the semester. It was such a relief to have all the excitement and drama of If/Then after having such disappointing experiences with the last two plays we were forced to sit through. The only negative thing I have to say about If/Then would be about the awkward choreography that took place in the park scenes at the beginning and end of the play. The rest of the play really had very little choreographed dancing so the jumps and twirls in those two scenes seemed quite out of place.

    While the musical was aimed at an audience slightly older then myself, I found the plot to be extremely relevant to where I am in life right now. Elizabeth’s twelve years in Phoenix was essentially a stand still. She came out of it having done very little in terms of building her career and she came out of the experience having to rebuild her entire support system. In each of the situations she focused on different values. One situation depicted the fulfillment she could get from giving herself to her career. She kept pushing forward and became a very influential individual at the expense of personal relationships. In the other she had the opportunity to focus on fulfillment through relationships at the cost of a high-power career. With graduation right around the corner I often worry about the work-life balance conundrum. It was thought provoking to see the two different paths taken. I’m so scared of focusing too hard on work and having an unfulfilling home life. I’m also scared of not reaching my full potential within my career. At the same time I have no idea what ‘reaching my full potential’ even means. I just know my family pushes me in the direction of Beth when I really feel I desire a life more like Liz. In time all will be revealed, but until then I’ll just focus on how much I love musicals.

    • I agree Lisa! I also appreciated the timing of getting to see this musical. As we’re currently living under stress in writing papers on top of papers, I could not imagine the emotional toll that a heavy play would have had on me this week. That said, If/Then was not necessarily all bright and cheery and happily ever after, but the music, talent, scale of production and overall spectacle factor surely brightened up my life for a few hours, leaving me wide-eyed & smiling. I think it’s interesting how you discuss the fear you may have with “reaching your full potential” because I feel that the musical was made to leave the audience members thinking about that fear. Also, given the fact that we are college students trying to figure out what to do with our lives, that fear is ever-present. I think the solution is to take that fear and turn it into something better, but I don’t have all the answers, I just wish I could eliminate this fear of “what if” from our lives. It would surely cause a lot less stress.

    • Hey Lisa,

      I really like how you mentioned that you love musicals. I found this to be an interesting observation seeing as how I TOO LOVE MUSICALS. One thing that I enjoyed about this particular musical was all the music that was included in it. When I was able to get over my excitement that it was a musical, I was intrigued as well by the balance in Elizabeth’s work life and personal life. At what point are the sacrifices one makes for their career related ambitions detrimental to their overall quality of life, I wondered. After I was done wondering that I went back to enjoying all the great music.

  3. Seeing “If/Then” at National Theatre was a real treat, even from our view from the fourth-story balcony. This was the first time I have seen a production of that kind of magnitude and the special effects were incredible, especially how the characters switched between the first and second level throughout the play. One thought I had was how impressive the stage presence of all the actors was—in front of thousands of people, singing with a spotlight on you. Most of the time I’m too nervous to sing in the shower because I’m worried Szymon will hear me. The way all the actors handled the spotlight with all their lines, musical numbers, and choreography was admirable. Seeing the contrast in style between a big budget production like “If/Then” and a more intimate approach that we have been used to was valuable.

    I didn’t really follow to story at all, however. I only learned that Beth/Liz were in two separate lives during intermission, a solid two hours in. I probably would have caught on to that at some point if Khayla hadn’t told me. Maybe. I doubt the fault lies in the story itself, I had just taken a 6-hour final for a policy class and my mental energy reserves were rather depleted.

    A theme the play keep coming back to exploring was the idea of fate, which was interesting, because it portrayed two different ways life could have gone for Elizabeth. While this seems contradictory to the idea of fate because her two lives are so different, the ending showed how fate or destiny could possibly be compatible with free will. Elizabeth meets Josh in the park by chance, after his third tour. Despite all the different choices she made and the first missed opportunity to meet Josh in the park, it still happened for her at the very end.

    • I also found the layout of the set to be quite effective and thought that the show was orchestrated incredibly well from a technical perspective. From the constantly shifting lights to the rotating stage or the multi-tiers of the stage that were sometimes simultaneously in use, I found it all to be incredibly invigorating. Comparatively, I thought that it presented an interesting contrast to all of the other plays that we have seen show far this term. I was glad to be given the opportunity to experience such a technically proficient play and feel that it only helped to continue to enhance my renewed appreciation of theatre by illustrating just what is possible when one has an appropriate budget and performance space.

    • Hey Devin,

      This is pretty funny, I have to say. But I’m with you on the being lost thing. It took me around an hour to figure out what was going on, and during intermission I was trying to piece together which storyline had certain characteristics. I could chalk this up to us not being able to the stage as clearly, but I don’t think that was the case…

      Anywho, great post. Short and funny. I like it.

    • Devin,

      Why are you afraid I will hear you singing in the shower? Just like Elizabeth, you have been too calculative and cautious in your life. You should sing in the shower and leave the rest up to choice and chance, fate and destiny. Maybe I’ll like it, maybe I’ll join in, or maybe I’ll just hate it. Your choice, of course, will not be the inspiration for a musical at the National Theatre or even for a show at Theater J but it might just strengthen our friendship. And that is a chance I wish you would take.

  4. Throughout the entire musical, I was afraid the large moving mirror wall was going to drop onto the stage. Maybe I was still thinking I was at the Phantom of the Opera, but the whole theme of fate and chance mixed with a large dangling moving mirror wall just seemed like a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, If/Then was not and is not a disaster. While the distinction between two different plot lines was difficult to catch onto during the first act, it was the originality and superb performances by Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp that warded off my fears of the improbable mirror disaster. (Queue Menzel’s voice calming my nervous knee-pattering). Recently, there has been a trend in the art of making musicals that lacks originality. Every B-list movie from the past 20 years is somehow finding its way onto a Broadway stage, no matter how terrible the original film or the film-to-stage adaptation is. While I think adaptations can be done well and must be recognized as legitimate creative responses to original works, I also think that the musical scene has been milking the adaptation, film-to-stage genre too much, not because it is consistently good art but because it will consistently make money. Nothing hurts me more than emphasizing the importance of money over art. That said, If/Then, in all of its imperfections, is a breath of fresh air in the highly commercialized world of Broadway. It may be reminiscent of Rent (Menzel & Rapp again acting as former lovers in NYC) and the two plot lines may take a while to lift off of the ground, but the reality of it, the emphasis on fate/chance and the impressive performances and set design put If/Then in a league far from the adaptation genre. It’s refreshing to hear a story that wasn’t told once before in a movie theater. I applaud If/Then for not only doing their best with their creation, but for helping to push the art of the musical back into the focus of creating completely original works. Hopefully when it premieres in New York, Broadway will take notice and follow suit.

  5. If/Then was not only pleasing to my ears, but to my mind as well as it provoked a lot of thought about life in general. On the most basic level, I thought the musical was relevant to people that are our age (undergrad or grad school students) who are making choices that will affect the rest of their lives–should I date this person? Will I marry them? Should I accept this job? What will make me happy? Something though to mention that was raised in our short discussion Friday is that, for Elizabeth, her choice was not to either have the career OR have the relationship, but instead that these were two different paths that her life took based on one single choice.

    The show began with a conversation we have all had at some point or another. She is on the phone with Josh, reflecting on when they first met. “What if I had not listened to that man play guitar in the park?” Some of the dearest conversations we have with close friends or in relationships are those remembering the beginning. Something in us, as human beings, is touched by how our lives intersect in meaningful ways–and that feeling is something that I think If/Then was very successful in stirring among the audience.

    That said, however, in hearing passing comments made by various people, If/Then was not loved by everyone in the audience (which was surprising to me at first). I wonder if part of that, though, is what memories a person brings in to the show and the choices they have made. The story brought about a very real questioning of oneself, “Have the choices I made in my life brought me to a good place or a bad one?” For those who may answer no to this question, the musical may have been disturbing, scary, or even offensive.

    So, though the singing was truly excellent, If/Then brought much more to the table than just Idina Menzel.

    • Madison,
      I really enjoyed reading your post because prior to reading it I did not consider why other people did not like the musical. It was very interesting that you attributed other people’s dislike of the show to their memories or choices. I agree that the show may have created negative emotions for people who feel that they have made wrong choices during their lives, which could be described as having regrets. I wonder if people who disliked the show have a certain moment where they feel they made a mistake or if they simply do not like where they are today, but do not know what choices landed them there. Personally, I do not like to look back and analyze my choices because I do not want to live a life of regrets.

    • Hey Madison! Fabulous blog post. Your point about Elizabeth’s one choice being such a turning point for her life is a great one. While people at our stage of life often feel like this is a decision that we are building up to and spend a ton of time thinking about and considering, Elizabeth’s decision was pretty spur of the moment. Inviting her two friends to the same coffee date shows how undecided about what she really wanted at that point. I wonder if after all of our planning and deciding as young people if our life paths will really come down to a spur of the moment decision like it did for Liz/Beth. I also think your point about those who did not enjoy the play possibly looking on it with their own lens of personal history and regret was intriguing. I guess I don’t take into consideration my own point of view as much as I should when considering my reaction to plays/musicals. For me this was all about hope and the future and possibilities, a much more pleasant position than from one of regret.

  6. “If/Then” was an exciting culmination to a semester of theater in Washington. It was markedly different from a lot of other productions we had seen that far: it was our first musical of the season, it was a “big budget” commercial production, had a two-tier set/stage that made the nosebleed balcony seats not all that bad, and it starred widely recognized actors as Idina Menzel played Elizabeth.

    The musical chronicled two intertwined and complex plot lines that showed us the different careers moves, family life, mistakes, and adventures that occur to the very calculative Elizabeth but are mostly due to the whims of chance. I concur with many of my classmates that the respective plots were a little hard to follow but intriguing situational conflicts made it hard to dismiss the production as a good theater work and approach it as just a concert. Ideas and concepts like gay marriage, sexual promiscuity, free will, career and family trade-offs, families broken apart by our constant state of war, and the mismatch between skills and jobs in the economy were examined in an engaging fashion. You can think about these things without being an expert on the entire significance of the plot.

    I enjoyed the singing and dancing and felt that it improved as the production progressed. The moving set pieces, rotating stage, numerous costume changes, etc. provoked some reflection about all the moving parts and hard work that go into creating a production of that magnitude and even productions at smaller community theaters. During my brief foray into acting in the 6th grade, I found it hard enough to memorize a script let alone all the wonderful nuances that go into making If/Then such a memorable production.

    • Szymon, I too was blown away by the set of the stage in If/Then. There were so many working parts that made the production so realistic and grand. I loved the feeling of being transported to different places, different times in Beth/Liz’s life which was made possible by the ever changing stage set up. Revolving floors, changing background projections, multiple levels of stage–all of these things worked to keep the audience alert and intrigued by what might happen next. There was certainly no opportunity to be bored with the production in this sense. If/Then is a perfect example of how stage design really impacts the viewer’s engagement in the show- and also shows how it can make the production less fictional and more believable.

  7. Having the opportunity to see If/Then at The National Theatre during my last week in Washington, DC was a surreal experience. The production itself was beautiful and exciting yet also extremely relevant to fellow theatre students and myself. We are all going through a period of decision-making, as we must choose our majors, our internships, and ultimately, our futures.

    After spending my semester interning with Running Start, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that brings young women to politics, I truly enjoyed seeing a strong, female character as the star of the production. However, I felt mixed messages from the production. Elizabeth’s two alternative lives showed her at two extremes – a single, successful professional or a married mother and professor. Khayla and I discussed the idea that the production had shown Elizabeth could not have everything she wanted. Elizabeth could either have her dream career or be married to the perfect man. She could not have both. (I was thankful for the production tying in the possibility for her to take on the government job as a mother, but the position was lower in rank than her job as a single woman.)

    As a young woman pursuing a career in Accounting, I also struggle with the idea of having both my dream career and my dream family. It is difficult to see that even in a fictional world, a young, intelligent, and independent woman cannot achieve both goals at the same time.

    Although I personally struggled with some of the messages within the musical, I enjoyed the production. It was a wonderful change of pace and direction from what we had seen throughout the semester. The set design was extremely well done and definitely took into consideration those of us who were viewing the musical from the forth floor balcony. The production elicited great excitement and many forms of emotions from me, and I walked away from the National Theatre truly feeling like I had been to the theatre.

    • I seldom contemplate about women with career ambitions needing to plan and think about not only marriage, but also becoming a parent. Being a mother is not like being a father in that society and our culture puts so many demands on the mother and one of the primary nurturers. I definitely think that the play attempted to portray the stresses that some women in Elizabeth’s position go through.
      And I do agree that some of the messages were a definitely confusing but I did enjoy virtually every bit of it. They had an amazing production and continued to entertain the audience from the start of the play to the end of it, which is really impressing.

    • Casey. I too think about the conflicts of balancing both a successful career and family in the future. Like Kevin said, the demands that our society has placed on the role of women, and the role of motherhood makes the idea of having it all almost daunting and unrealistic. I thought the play was interesting in that it exposed the extremes of having a loving family or having a successful career, however it saddened me that Elizabeth could not have it all. I was rooting for Liz, simply because the love that it appeared her and Josh had seemed so beautiful and real…but then he was suddenly ripped away from her and their family. Leaving Liz not only with two children to raise on her own in her 40s, but also with the void of losing the love of her life. I like that the ideas of Liz being able to pursue her dream job as a mother, and Beth opening up to love were introduced at the end. But, I do wish those narratives could have been explored a bit more.

  8. As a devout fan of the TV show Glee, I was thrilled to hear that Idina Menzel was the lead actress in the production If/Then. I thoroughly enjoy watching her on TV, so I was excited to see her perform live on stage. She was more incredible than I could have imagined, commanding my attention all the way from the fourth floor of the auditorium and projecting her emotions even though I could barely see her facial expressions.

    Aside from Idina’s spectacular performance, I found the plot of the play to be somewhat confusing. I was able to follow the basic story, but a various times throughout the show I was unsure if we were watching “Liz” or “Beth”. I enjoyed the show as a whole, but there are some kinks in the middle that could be clearer. I also really enjoyed the set. This was the first play we have seen of this size, so we have not seen a set this elaborate. It made the play more enjoyable to watch from a distance.

    The musical was different from the plays we have watched because I felt that the singing made the whole experience lighter. While the show explored a heavy topic, it did not feel as emotionally draining as other plays we have seen this semester. When thinking that every decision we make could change the rest of our lives, it is so easy to become overwhelmed. However, I did not feel overwhelmed during the show as I have at other productions we have seen this semester. I think that since the actors are singing it creates a barrier between the show and reality. In contrast, when we viewed The Laramie Project, the fact that the actors were so close and there was not a set made the show more realistic. The Laramie Project felt as though there was a group of people that had witnessed an event sharing their personal stories. It was much easier for me to remove my emotions during If/Then, than in The Larmie Project.

    • Katy, I completely agree with you about the confusion of the production. I truly enjoyed the experience, the music, and the actors, however, I felt like I didn’t know what was going on, even at intermission! A few extra connections, like costume choices or lighting, might make the parallel lives a bit more clear. I believe it was a wonderful production to end our semester with, as many of our theatre experiences, like The Laramie Project, have been emotionally draining and somewhat exhausting. The production included many current topics of today, like gay marriage and the war but did not come across as preachy. Even though If/Then touched on some dicey subjects, I felt comfortable, yet excited, throughout the entire musical.

  9. The play IF/Then from start to finish was triumphantly irresistible. The tantalizing musicality and visually stimulating set design stunned the audience and kept them in awe. In my fantasies of owning a theatre company, I always imagine innovative ways and techniques to awe the audience and elevate play art. It shocked me to witness the rotating stage. I said to myself “hey that was my idea,” which is why “fate” or Ari brought me there. The use of mirrors gave so much needed dimension to the Universal message exuded all throughout the play.
    When the lights on the floor reflected on the above mirrors you felt the vastness of space and time. It was divinely executed. The message of choice vs. fate was clear from the jump, but a little obfuscating. I found it hard to keep up with the changing realities and different possibilities that Elizabeth could have took one turn down a different path brought a knew kind of life.
    I appreciated the ways in which the play arrested my attention and fully enveloped my consciousness. The beauty of life and mysterious happenings gave the play an extra edge to me.
    The dancing could have been more energetic I think, but I’m sure that singing to that degree and dancing are not always complementary of an artist. Overall the musical gave multiple dimensions to the subject and I thoroughly enjoyed myself and classmates for one of our last exciting play.

    • Whoa, I also commented a bit on set design and I completely agree with your notes on the expansiveness the mirrors created in the “universe” themes. I also quite agree that the mirrors added on an interesting dimension in terms of the meaning of the play– mirrors in literature are sometimes linked to other dimensions, which may be created by other choices. So, in many ways the mirrors served not only a practical but symbolic purpose.

      I also wondered about the dancers, at times their movements seemed messy or, even wearily executed. I do wonder, however, if it was meant to emphasize the notion that these were simply regular people dancing? I’m not sure if that is a bit of a stretch, I’m still currently developing my ideas on that (it’s also possible that the dancers didn’t give or didn’t have enough time to give breadth to the moment– especially in the lifts). I did appreciate, however, the pairings of men/men, women/women and men/women.

  10. When I walked up to the National Theater on Thursday night I was astounded, swarms of people were crowded outside of the theater waiting to get in. I realized immediately, this production must be a big deal. When I learned the lead role was being played by Idina Mendel from Wicked, I immediately got excited…I LOVE musicals. The opening number both confused and worried me, I grew weary of the musical and wasn’t sure how much I was actually going to like it. But as the story line began to develop I was captivated. The concept was so innovative to me -depicting how Elizabeth’s life would be depending on the choices she made.

    The choices “Beth” made catapulted Beth to an uber successful career. Where she acquired wealth, power, fame and recognition. However Beth’s ambitions, and inability to stop calculating the potential of failure kept her from finding love -at least in a romantic capacity- and her choice in men proved to be poor. Conversely the choices “Liz” made did not grant her the positions of power one might expect from a woman with a phD. However Liz, managed to open herself up to the ability to live freely and found the man of her dreams and start a family.

    The life of both of the women had their triumphs and their pitfalls and I could not tell which life I wanted Elizabeth to choose -Beth or Liz. Beth managed to acquire the opportunities that Elizabeth missed out on during her failed marriage of 12 years. She was able to reestablish herself and do the work that she loved, however her life was void of the happiness that only family can bring. Meanwhile, Liz, was able to find the man of her dreams and take part in a loving, healthy relationship -something her first marriage lacked. However, she was not able to reach as high as she wanted to in terms of her career, and then her husband was violently taken from her, dying during his tour of duty with the military. I did appreciate that the musical resolved with Beth being granted the opportunity to find love -with the man she, as Liz married; and with Liz, after her husband’s death, being granted an excellent job opportunity.

    • Sunny—

      I really like what you say about both lives having their triumphs and pitfalls. I completely agree with this point. One thing that I really struggled with was the impact that each decision had on her lives and the outcomes of her happiness in terms of career successes, personal behavior, and familial bonds. I thought that this play did a great job at representing this. As you mentioned, in the story of Beth, she achieves great success in terms of her career, yet she is left void in terms of family. In terms of Liz, she achieves the family with her husband and two children, yet in my opinion, she does not achieve the career success that she was meant to achieve having decided to talk to the guitar boy with Kate rather than return to her passion of protesting. It is truly interesting that each decision that we make can have this great of an impact on our lives.

  11. Sadly you will not find any great feedback about If/Then in this post. I do not know if I was just born without an appreciation for musicals, or if I just did not like this one in particular—but I had a very difficult time sitting through this performance. I found the songs simply all too similar. Each one sounded like the one sung before and they each started so abruptly as though there was no beginning to the song but instead it started in the middle. But perhaps this is what you sign up for when you go to see a musical. I absolutely love Grease, Dreamgirls, Westside Story and Lion King the musical, which are probably the only musicals I have ever seen. But If/Then was much different. I did not enjoy any of the songs. Perhaps if I did like them I would have appreciated the entire production much more. The story line was interesting. A story to which almost any adult woman can relate. Finding oneself, finding love, balancing career and romance. These are very universal themes so it was not difficult to enjoy the play’s theme.

    But there were other aspects that were problematic to me. There were some stylistic elements that made the story complex and original—like the multiple scenarios of Elizabeth’s life, whose life panned out through the different experiences of Beth and her counterpart Liz. This gave the play a very layered feel which can be intriguing and certainly keeps the audience on their toes. But I felt like the complexity caused by this did not mesh well with the musical aspect of the play. There was too much to digest. Singing, dancing, the bellowing of ballads and then multiple scenarios and character relationships to keep track of—it just frustrated me.

    I also found certain things unbelievable. The lesbian couple seemed forced to me in the sense that both women just seemed like heterosexual actresses trying to behave the way they thought a lesbian couple would. I just did not buy it. I also was frustrated with Lucas and his relationship with Beth or perhaps Liz—you see what I mean when I say I could not keep track. Lucas was awkward and almost seemed asexual in that I did not buy his relationship with Liz/Beth or the guy he was dating. His romantic and intimate interactions with both characters seemed too forced.

    All of the aforementioned issues coupled with my vehement dislike for corny, hyperbolic happiness displayed by outbreaks of song and collective pirouettes and jetés across the floor made this production painful for me. However, I acknowledge my obvious bias because what I dislike about musicals are all of the definitive aspects of this art form.

    Contrary to my overall dislike of musicals, I can actually deal with the corniness when everything else about the production is entertaining, realistic, and pleasant on the ears. Perhaps I would have loved it had the acting and song choices been as stellar as those in a production like Grease or Dreamgirls.

  12. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a musical, much less a musical with famous actors and actresses. And since this is the first musically invested performance we have seen this entire term, I kind of hold it to a different standard. Although the other plays raised important questions and ideas, “If/Then” captures a philosophical question that is often discussed but rarely answered in a satisfying way: what if?

    Elizabeth is/was a calculating individual; she’s extremely rational, dependent on logistics, and focused on her life’s goals. But when she decides to leave her longtime marriage and move back to New York, she has the ability to become one of two Elizabeths: Beth or Liz (to be honest, this is kind of where I started to get a bit lost. As the play presents the life of Liz and interweaves it with the life of Beth, I couldn’t quite keep up with all of the storylines; I had to wait until intermission to get it all sorted out!). In both storylines, the thematic idea of fate kept recurring. Perhaps the most obvious example is when Josh—an ex-soldier coming back from the war to practice medicine—comes into Elizabeth’s life in either plot, albeit at different points of time in her life.

    For me, this is the most satisfying answer to the question “what if?” Even though Elizabeth doesn’t know which path she’ll take, Beth or Liz, she’s still fated (as her friend Kate would say) to meet Josh, and I think this is an important lesson. No matter what kind of scenario we conjure up in our heads, sometimes we should just have the thought that some things are meant to be. And if it is meant to be, then it’s meant to be—it’ll happen no matter what we do. Of course this train of thought can be perceived in negative ways as well as in positive ways, but if we make the conscious effort to feel like certain things are outside of our control, or we keep thinking “what if,” then I think it’s alright to believe in destiny or fate.

  13. Like many in D.C., I found the idea of seeing and hearing Idina Menzel to be quite a treat and I was incredibly excited about seeing the musical. While I was going to speak to the plot of the play initially– an intricate and interesting storyline which covers many topics related to the place of choice in our lives we ourselves must struggle with.Of course, as a young woman about to graduate from college I know what it is to face a sea of choices without any idea of the outcome.
    Frankly, after reading my colleagues well-written comments I felt it might prove worthwhile to go beyond my comfort zone and discuss something for which I typically don’t consider in depth: set design. Of course, the set it meant to accentuate the story line rather than lead the watcher to focus on it and I feel that this play did quite well in doing that. In particular,the effortlessness of the moving parts and lighting made for a more realistic experience. The lighting for the airplane and the subway offered enough for the story line to continue, but not so much that it dominated the story in a distracting way.
    While the set may be somewhat in the background, except in certain parts where it seemed to be central to the story (i.e. the rotating star filled circle, the use of the mirrors to expand the stars to cover the stage) the cost of having a set with so many moving parts must be quite hard to compete with for local theater. Is there something to be said for the creativity involved in small set designs and in lower budgets? Is that worth examining?

    At the same time, working in a bigger theater will inevitably incur greater costs. It’s hard to argue that the raising and lowering bridges did not enhance my theater going experience– especially as I sat in the boonies of the theater. Furthermore, in the birthday scene the two sets of stairs allowed the casts (representing different realities) to more efficiently move to their mark and removed what might have been a confusing maneuver without it.

    All in all, I quite enjoyed the set design (especially the stars, I’m a sucker for a starry night) but perhaps what I most enjoy now is considering the hard questions every set designer must ask themselves as they move forward in creating a cohesive production with other members involved in the creative proces.

  14. Attending the production of If/Then was unlike any other performance that we have attended this year. For one, it was a musical. It also featured a huge Broadway star, Idina Menzel.

    One thing that stood out to me, beyond the wonderful musical numbers, was the length of time that the production took place. It seemed to last nearly 2.5 hours. I am curious if this is because it is a musical production, thus since there is an intense amount of choreography and vocals that go into these types of productions, they believe that anything less than 2 hours would not be worth it.

    The theme of the play was an interesting concept to me as well. I find it powerful to think of the various points that different decisions in our lives will place us. It is nerve racking, for one, because different decisions at a specific point in our lives can create two drastically different alternatives. Thus with each decision, people are left to ponder which is the best and how each will alter their realities. In my opinion, this seems like a lot of trouble to place on each situation. This was my initial understanding of the musical, however, now I understand the production to be showing that although each decision that we make will alter our lives, and even our behavior, with each choice we make, we must be decisive and we must try to make the most of it. There is no single choice that can lead us to a good or bad life, because these are options for every choice that we make. It is our job to determine our fate.

    • I definitely agree with Khayla that there is no single choice that leads us to a definite good or bad life. It is interesting that the play explores the different processes of decision making and their impact on Elizabeth’s life. There is the impulsive decision making such as when Beth kisses her best friend Lucas even though she does not romantically like him. There is the more ponderous decision making for example when Beth contemplates for a long time whether she should take the job. There is also the repetitive remake of decisions, for example, even though Liz refuses to give her number to Josh, Josh keeps reappearing in her life to force her remake her decision repetitively until she finally gives him her number. No single decision has definitively taken her life in a different direction. It is the combination of the choices that Elizabeth makes that impact her life.

  15. “If/Then” was an exciting culmination to a semester of theater in Washington. It was markedly different from a lot of other productions we had seen that far: it was our first musical of the season, it was a “big budget” commercial production, had a two-tier set/stage that made the nosebleed balcony seats not all that bad, and it starred widely recognized actors as Idina Menzel played Elizabeth.

    The musical chronicled two intertwined and complex plot lines that showed us the different careers moves, family life, mistakes, and adventures that occur to the very calculative Elizabeth but are mostly due to the whims of chance. I concur with many of my classmates that the respective plots were a little hard to follow but intriguing situational conflicts made it hard to dismiss the production as a good theater work and approach it as just a concert. Ideas and concepts like gay marriage, sexual promiscuity, free will, career and family trade-offs, families broken apart by our constant state of war, and the mismatch between skills and jobs in the economy were examined in an engaging fashion. You can think about these things without being an expert on the entire significance of the plot.
    I enjoyed the singing and dancing and felt that it improved as the production progressed. The moving set pieces, rotating stage, numerous costume changes, etc. provoked some reflection about all the moving parts and hard work that go into creating a production of that magnitude and even productions at smaller community theaters. During my brief foray into acting in the 6th grade, I found it hard enough to memorize a script let alone all the wonderful nuances that go into making If/Then such a memorable production.

  16. The musical If/then explores life’s many possibilities. The structure of Elizabeth taking on different identities of Liz and Beth reminds me of a possibility tree that branches out exponentially for every decision Elizabeth makes. The exploration of different possibilities in life also reminds me the idea of parallel universe where different things can at the same time but in different realms of reality. The parallel structure is best exemplified during Liz/Beth’s birthday scene where Lucas and Josh both propose to her while holding her birth cakes. The parallel structure showcases the musical’s dramatic tension as we see how Elizabeth’s decisions can drastically impact her life. However, the complexity of the story line also makes the musical sometimes hard to follow. On one hand, we have the two main story lines of Liz/Beth’s lives. We also get a glimpse of the lives of their friends, including details of their breakups and makeups. The duality of the characters are played by the same actors which creates a compelling vision of how the characters are essentially the same person even though the decisions they make take them to different situations. However, the downside is that at times, it makes it hard for the audience to follow through which “lives” the characters on stage are living.

    There’s an old saying “hindsight is always 20/20,” but after watching the musical, I am not sure if that is always right. It is hard to say which life is better now that I have seen the outcomes. Both Liz and Beth have ups and downs and it’s very difficult to weigh them. I wonder which life Elizabeth would choose. It is also interesting that at the end of the musical, we revisit the idea of fate that was first introduced at the start of the play by Elizabeth’s friend Kate. As Josh approaches Liz in the park and offers to buy her a coffee, we are reminded that perhaps some things are meant to happen whatever choices we make.

Comments are closed.