‘If/Then’ Explores What-Ifs of Life in Dual Narrative at The Bushnell

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Left to right: Tamyra Gray (Kate), Jackie Burns (Liz/Beth) and Anthony Rapp (Lucas) in “If/Then.” Credit: Joan Marcus

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.

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Jackie Burns as Elizabeth in “If/Then”. Credit: Joan Marcus

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.

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Credit: Joan Marcus

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.

Warner Theatre Hears a Who in ‘Seussical The Musical’

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The cast of “Seussical The Musical” at Warner Theatre. Credit: Mandi Martini

Of all the places you go, one of them should be to this Warner show.

It’s a musical called “Seussical” that will give you lots of thinks.
And it’s a production enjoyable both for adults and kiddliwinks.

Our happy, lovable elephant Horton (Josh Newey) hears a many a Who land on a clover,
And the whimsical Cat in The Hat (Samuel Everett) sparks wide-eyed young JoJo’s (Trevor Rinaldi) imagination to runneth over.

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Josh Newey as Horton the Elephant. Credit: Mandi Martini

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JoJo (Trevor Rinaldi) and The Cat in the Hat (Samuel Everett). Credit: Mandi Martini

Meanwhile brassy diva lazy Mazie La Bird (Mary C. Johnson) wants all the attention,
As Horton’s nerdy, quirky and adorable neighbor, Gertrude McFuzz (Maggie Gillette) seeks his affection.

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Mazie La Bird (Mary C. Johnson). Credit Mandi Martini

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Gertrude McFuzz (Maggie Gillette). Credit: Mandi Martini

The mischievous Wickersham Brothers (Raymond Cook, Theron Johnson III, Michael Newman) monkey around, wreaking havoc on Horton in the Jungle of Nool,
And we get oh so much sass and opinions from jazzy, alto AlexaRae Campagna as the spunky Sour Kangaroo.

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The Wickersham Brothers (Michael Newman, Raymond Cook, Theron Johnson III) Credit: Mandi Martini

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Sour Kangaroo (AlexaRae Campagna) and Horton (Josh Newey). Credit: Mandi Martini

The Bird Girls (Veronica Johnson, Caleigh Lozito, Kennedy Morris) chirp angelic, operatic gospel with attitude,
And we fell oh so sorry for selfless Horton and one-feather tailed Gertrude.

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The Bird Girls (Kennedy Morris, Caleigh Lozito and Veronica Johnson). Credit: Mandi Martini

Creators Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens teach us a lot of lessons through Seuss,
About the dangers of over-indulging in medicine to give us long tails on our caboose,
Or abandoning one’s egg to go to Palm Beach, using many an excuse,
Or Mr. Mayor (JD Bauer) and Mrs. Mayor (Sara Wilson) discouraging their child, JoJo’s thinks, scared of them running wild and loose.

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A person’s a person no matter how small, which is why everyone in this cast is important, after all.
From the Whos to the Citizens of Nool, they put in all of their energy and really answer the call.

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The Whos and The Grinch. Credit: Mandi Martini

The set has a very illustrated, Seussy flare popping against the vibrant and stunning costumes and hair!

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Kaitlyn Anthony as a featured dancer in the circus. Credit: Mandi Martini

Even if you’re like General Gengus Kahn Schmitz (Conrad Sienkiewicz) and his cadets, sounding off about disliking green eggs and ham,
There’s a lot of flavor in this musical to appeal to every sir, child and madame.

The full orchestra is powerful and sometimes overpowers the voices,
But the modern-day jing tinglers, flu floopers, trum tupers and slu-slumkers make oh so joyful noises.

The dancing is lively and the actors bring high energy and expressiveness needed in a kids’ show, those are facts.
You’ll see many familiar and beloved characters return, like The Grinch (Adam Fancher) and his dog Max (Jake Kordas).

So whether your soar to the Warner like Vlad Vladikoff (Dylan Zawisza) or inch there slowly like Yertle the Turtle (Joe Guttadauro), come see these stars,
They’ll help you see you’re not alone in the universe and teach you about friendship, and make you think just how lucky you are.

The staging and characterizations in “Seussical” are creative and cleaver.
Well done by Richard McKenna on his first directing endeavor.

Music directed by TJ Thompson and choreographed by Sharon Wilcox, the musical is two acts,
And on the last day of the run, Aug. 7, you’ll be visited by special friend, The Lorax.

So, go to warnertheatre.org for tickets and info,
And of all the places you go, one you won’t regret is this show!