‘If/Then’ a pleasure for fans of Idina Menzel and her powerhouse voice
Exiting the opening performance of “If/Then” at Paramount Theatre on Tuesday night, an adolescent girl was excitedly sharing with her companions her adoration of the musical’s star, Idina Menzel.
She listed her favorite Menzel roles — the original witch Elphaba in the Broadway smash “Wicked,” for which she won a Tony Award. The voice of Queen Elsa in the Disney fantasia “Frozen.” Lea Michele’s mother in TV’s “Glee.”
“If/Then” did not disappoint this besotted fan, and she won’t be alone among Menzel’s legion of (mostly female) admirers who’ve grown up singing along to her Grammy-winning soundtracks.
Book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, music by Tom Kitt. Through Sunday, Nov. 8, Paramount Theatre, 900 Pine St., Seattle; tickets from $34 (877-784-4849 or stgpresents.org)
In this show, which premiered on Broadway in 2014 and ran a year, there’s a double dose of Menzel as two versions of the same woman, Elizabeth. And there are plenty of soaring ballads in Tom Kitt’s string-laced, pop-friendly score, tailored to her powerhouse voice.
Ironically, the main weakness in Brian Yorkey’s book for “If/Then” is its bifurcated central character. Unless you overlook a few things, and despite Menzel’s star presence and vocal prowess, Elizabeth is not compelling company. She’s self-absorbed, whiny, annoyingly insecure — “a neurotic mess,” despite everyone telling her how fabulous she is.
Though this gal is having an early midlife crisis, “If/Then” is far more like an urban fairy tale than real life. There’s some suffering and loss, yes, but also comforting/cloying cliches about love at first sight, trusting fate and being all you can be.
The show’s book by Yorkey (who grew up in Issaquah, and with Kitt also created the superior Tony-honored musical, “Next to Normal”), adopts a gambit similar to “Sliding Doors,” a 1998 film about a woman who would lead different lives if she catches, or misses, a particular train.
It’s a bit more complicated with Elizabeth, who in her late 30s arrives in an idealized New York City after a divorce. If she takes one path she’ll become Beth, the instantly successful city planner — which here seems a rather glamorous occupation. On another path, she’ll be Liz, mother of two and wife of a near-perfect and slightly square (hey, he’s from Nebraska!) Army doctor, Josh (appealing James Snyder).
On both alternating, sometimes intersecting trajectories, Liz/Beth has a pair of sit-comish, butt-inski friends with their own relationship issues: sassy black lesbian teacher Kate (played with verve by top-notch belter LaChanz) and nebbishy, bisexual housing activist Lucas (Anthony Rapp, who earlier co-starred with Menzel in “Rent”).
They hover as Liz/Beth gets “lost in what might be,” and overthinks her life in should’ve-could’ve songs (“What If,” “Some Other Me”). The take-away may be that modern women have many options, and “We’re always starting over.” But it takes a lot of show to impart the obvious.
It’s rare for a national tour to feature four original leads as “If/Then” does, and their palpable rapport is a treat. The dual realities may confuse at first, but are mostly staged fluidly by director Michael Greif, on a swift-changing modular set by Mark Wendland enhanced by projections of Manhattan locales, as well as subway and street maps. Choreographer Larry Keigwin deftly threads dance through small-ensemble street scenes set in urban oases like Bryant Park.
Once again, the vocal amplification at the Paramount ranges from fine to muddy to blasting. With big show voices like these, maybe turning the mikes off occasionally would help.