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If / Then (Segerstrom Center for the Arts)



 
A truly original and satisfying piece of theatre is “If/Then,” a complicated story of how fate can and does influence our lives.  The story (by lyricist Bryan Yorkey)  is about Elizabeth (a stunning Idina Menzel), a major in Urban Planning, who moves to Manhattan for career and, as the title indicates, shows us two different lives led – one as “Liz”, the other as “Beth.”

Knowing that fact eliminates confusion when the Liz/Beth duo seemingly contradicts herself in one scene by denying she has ever had children, when the previous scene has her bragging about two sons.  And the husband, Josh (handsome James Snyder) who is killed in action in Iraq also meets her for the first time in a park.  Truly mind-bogglingly confusing if you don’t get that salient fact of two lives of the same person due to diverging “fates.”

It boasts an energetic and melodic score (by Tom Kitt), although by the end the songs began to all sound alike.  Director Michael Greif (who has been with it since its first workshop in D.C. in 2013) has staged it magnificently, with a full cast of professionals who make their moments shine. 

On a way-too-busy set (design by Mark Wendland), but one that supports the action, expressive lighting (by Kenneth Posner), and an excellent costume design of Emily Rebholz, the show looks great.  The only downside was the sound of Brian Ronan, in which the singers often couldn’t be understood (although that could be the problem of the Segerstrom, which perhaps isn’t as used to big rock-music sound as it needs to be).  Whatever the reason, it detracted from trying to understand the lyrics of fully 30% of the songs, leading to confusions, indeed.

What is remarkable to this critic was, in spite of the misunderstandings of Yorkey’s story, it holds together quite well as drama – human interactions which lead us into differing territories depending on “the fates.”  Menzel, Snyder, Anthony Rabb as a former lover of Beth’s (as well as an active gayman), La Chance as her best friend, Kate, who beds, marries and divorces the sensual Anne (Janine DiVita), are all epitomes of talent in the theatre.

Plus, accepting that sexual minorities are rapidly reaching “normal” status in our strife-torn America, the casual acceptance of gaymale/lesbian/and straight coupling – with no acknowledgements of who/what/where/and when of the types of coupling – is amazingly accurate; we’re becoming a tolerant nation; a fact that most millennial’s now live with.   

If you have a chance to see this show in this national tour, or at the very least purchase the original cast recording (OCR), do so.  Knowing ahead of time what you need to know (and the show doesn’t make clear enough at the beginning) will enhance the experience.

“If/Then” plays through January 24th only at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, CA 92626.  Tickets:  714.556.2787 or at www.SCFTA.org.