I thought I’d say that “If/Then,” the musical starring Idina Menzel (Adele Dazeem to John Travolta) should be called “Sliding Doors: The Musical.” Someone in Washington, DC beat me to it last fall, though when this terrible show opened in our nation’s capitol.
I thought I’d say that “If/Then” is in the Richard Rodgers Theater, and that the composer of “Oklahoma,” “Carousel,” and “The Sound of Music” must be writhing in his grave because the songs in this new show are contemptibly atonal, annoying and shrill.
You can tell I did not like “If/Then,” a show which features a song called “What the Fuck” and is littered with the F word, not to mention a lot of other coarse terms that grated on me to the point where I felt my ears were burning. It’s not that I don’t like the F word, and use it from time to time. In “The Book of Mormon,” it’s appropriate and hilarious. In “If/Then” it just indicates lazy writing, inarticulate characters who are boors and boring.
At Friday night’s show, the place was packed. “If/Then” is a box office hit thanks to Idina Menzel. She has quite a following from “Wicked” and “Frozen” and her hit song “Let it Go.”
I should take that advice and “Let it go.” But I can’t. “If/Then” is a miserable attempt at a Broadway musical. It’s on a par with “Big Fish” and “The Bridges of Madison County” and “Catch Me If You Can” in that is utterly forgettable and unnecessary. “Rocky,” at least, has a strong story and those incredible sets. These other things– why, why, why? I don’t get it.
“If/Then” has other problems besides no songs. The story is of Elizabeth, a 39 year old divorced city planner who returns to New York from her broken marriage in Phoenix. As this is a pretty solid re-telling of “Sliding Doors,” she is Beth in half the scenes and Liz in the other half. You get it? She pursues two what if story lines with the same friends and lovers, reaching the same conclusion of self-enlightenment. “If/Then” is a Lifetime movie from 1989.
Everyone wants to sleep with Beth/Liz– lesbians, gays, straights, her boss, etc. And some do. Is she that appealing? She’s a city planner and she sings about Urban Policy to the same sort of soft rock in about 20 songs. Unironically. If I wanted to hear songs about buildings, I’d listen to the Talking Heads’ “Don’t Worry About the Government.”
Then there’s the costumes, lighting, and sets. Costumes– the character wear sort of street clothes from the Gap. I wondered if they actually changed into them, or just arrived at the theater this way. How would they know the difference? Only Jason Snyder gets to wear something different– an Army camouflage suit with boots. Otherwise, I could have walked onto the stage and been in the show and no one would have been the wiser.
Sets– it does seem as though they dragged in the chairs and tables from the Times Square pedestrian mall. Not kidding.
Lighting– there was some.
I can’t say there was dancing. There was sliding, sort of. Or exaggerated walking. The actors often formed foursomes and leaned in and out while circling each other.
Among the strange ideas in the script: Liz meets a physician soldier and keeps asking him about “going overseas.” Is it 1941? Is he in the freakin’ USO? She says “overseas” like it’s “are you traveling to Mars next week?”
The actors: every time LaChanze opened her mouth to sing, I wished she more to do. Her voice has texture, color, and range. Imagine if she had actual songs. Anthony Rapp is a good singer, but he doesn’t open his eyes while he sings. He wears owlish glasses that don’t help.
What about Adele Dazeem? Her voice, at least with this material, is often shrill. The audience didn’t care. They loved her. She might as well have been Madonna for them. I have no idea why. She is not an exciting performer. Jennifer Hudson would blow her off a stage in five seconds. Kelli O’Hara is Beverly Sills by comparison. Menzel can be funny, sort of Jewish “Rhoda” funny, and that’s what she reminded me of as Liz/Beth. But she’s also strident as she clomps across the stage in heavy designer shoes or boots.
But you know, what the f? The show is selling tickets. The audience can’t sing along because there is nothing to sing to– except maybe a song that reminded me of “In My Life” from “Les Miz.” But that’s a whole other story.