If you had made one different choice, then where would you be? Would anything be different?
Many of us ask that question about seemingly minor moments in our lives and it’s something “If/Then” at The Bushnell explores.
We experience the parallel lives newly divorced Elizabeth (Jackie Burns) could lead when she moves to New York to start a new life depending on a simple choice.
In one life, she is Liz and her decision to go to a concert with her new but very good friend Kate (Tamyra Gray) sets her on a seemingly happier less career-oriented path of love and family. She meets a soldier named Josh, who has just returned from his second tour of service, and misses a call about a high-ranking job offer from ex-boyfriend, Stephen (Jacques C. Smith).
In her other life, she is Beth. The activist in her drives her to go to a protest with her friend Lucas (Anthony Rapp, who played Mark in the Broadway original cast of “Rent” and the movie alongside Idina Menzel, who also played the original role of Elizabeth opposite Rapp on Broadway). She takes the call from Stephen for the deputy urban planner job and that consumes her life, so she doesn’t have romance or meet Josh. Yet.
Which life is better? That’s up to you to decide. Both have moments of happiness and misery, but in both she experiences love and loss. One moment in her life as Liz is a real tear-jerker. The contemporary setting of the play makes it so real and relatable that you can’t help but put yourself in Elizabeth’s lives and feel the emotions she feels.
Elizabeth interestingly experiences very familiar issues, for instance getting pregnant at the same point in both her lives, though with different men. One situation leads to children and marriage and in the other she chooses abortion, though the subject is very lightly touched upon. In any case, you wonder what you would have done in her shoes. The flurry of intertwining parallel narratives makes the story lively and captivating.
Burns, of the original Broadway cast of “If/Then,” presents us with a likable protagonist who over-thinks everything and examines her life with a statistical realism. Her voice has an Idina Menzel and Lea Michelle quality to it and she even looks like both of them, so her style is very powerful, expressive and captivating for the role, which Menzel has also played. Burns has also played Elphaba in “Wicked” on tour and on Broadway, a role that Menzel originated on Broadway.
Matthew Hydzik plays the very positive and friendly Josh, who influences both of Elizabeth’s story lines in some way. His friend, David (Delacruz) only comes into the story because of him and is another optimistic character in the story.
Rapp has a very recognizable voice as Lucas that carries on attributes and traits of his role as Mark from “Rent” as an activist concerned about lower income housing options in New York. His character’s life and who he loves – man, David (Marc Delacruz) or woman (Beth) – is affected by the path of Elizabeth’s life.
Gray stood out as a favorite character in the spunky, free-spirited “f-ing great kindergarten teacher” Kate. Her vocal prowess was no surprise, as she appeared in the inaugural season of “American Idol” alongside winner Kelly Clarkson. Her love life is also affected by Elizabeth’s decisions – while she marries the love of her life, Ane (Janine Divita) in both, the outcome changes.
It was nice to see two gay couples in the forefront of the story in an uncontroversial light showing us that love comes in many forms. We also see love in Elizabeth’s friendships even when her lives don’t have her on a romantic path.
The contemporary style of the music makes it very conversational, like the oh-so-funny song, “What the F@$%?” questioning how you get to certain moments and surprises in your life. Tom Kitt wrote the 2014 Tony-nominated score. Brian Yorkey wrote the book and lyrics, which also earned a Tony nomination in 2014.
The set, designed by Mark Wendland, was very modern and the park serves as the focal point of the beginning, middle points and ending of the coinciding stories. It worked really well because so many strangers cross paths in a park, which makes you wonder how your life could change if your storyline intersected with a new person’s. You also see a lot of life being lived in a park, from music to blind dates. The ensemble helped to make these scenes very realistic, particularly with the addition of bikers on stage and people interacting in the background and sitting on park benches.
Projections designed by Peter Nigrini map out the locations of the different scenes for us, much like the map on a metro, where part of the story actually takes place.
I didn’t know much about this story going into it, but it was one of the few musicals that ever made me cry. The story draws a lot of emotion out of you and really hits home in an authentic way that makes you think about your own life.
So think, how would your life be different if you went to this musical? Then what?
Find out by checking out “If/Then” at The Bushnell in Hartford, running through Sunday. The play is directed by Michael Greif and choreographed by Larry Keigwin. Kyle C. Norris is the music director.
More information on the show and tickets is available at www.bushnell.org.