Friday, February 23, 2018
Stage

Review: 'If/Then' is a mixed bag, long on concept, short on substance

TAMPA — I am feeling ambivalent about If/Then, which runs through the weekend at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. We are talking about an original musical that takes on a few big questions and tries to answer them. That is bold and commendable.

That the result teases and hints more than it delivers; that its characters are not especially believable; that it remains more of a cerebral exercise than the heart-twisting meditation on fate and love and passion it seemingly strives to be, makes seeing it either a confusing work-in-progress forced onto the stage or a perfectly respectable piece of art worth a lingering look. The ambivalent impressions it leaves behind stem not from its central premise, but the priorities embraced by Brian Yorkey, who wrote the book, in telling these twin stories.

Yorkey and composer Tom Kitt, two accomplished talents (they won a Pulitzer for Next to Normal), created If/Then from scratch. Elizabeth, an urban planning professor shaken by a divorce, has returned to New York from Arizona looking for a new start. Her first decision seems inconsequential but serves as an appointed fork in the road.

Like the opening song, What If?, this musical hinges on different directions a life can take from seemingly random choices. What if audiences could follow down each path of a simple choice and see where it leads?

Elizabeth's choices start in a park, where she has been listening to a concert. Either she leaves the park with Lucas, an annoyingly endearing (or endearingly annoying) activist played by Anthony Rapp, or stays behind with her friend Kate. Conveniently, the friends have just anointed her with different nicknames, half-jokingly symbolizing her new identity in New York.

Thus "Beth" goes to the protest with Lucas, just missing the chance to meet a handsome soldier who is drawn to her. She ends up taking an urban planning job with the city and finds success but also a rupture in her relationship with Lucas.

"Liz," meanwhile, meets the soldier (who turns out to be an Army surgeon, recently returned from the Middle East) and eventually accepts his invitations to go out. They marry and have two sons. On this foundation, the musical briskly hands off parallel lives every few minutes or so. This structure allows for some amusing contrasts. Beth, for example, attends a Yankees game with Stephen, her urban planning boss, while Liz goes to a Mets game with Josh, the surgeon.

But here's the thing. This is an intellectual exercise, a grand "What if?" Characters emerge to flesh out the premises, and songs to distinguish the characters.

Jackie Burns, who was Idina Menzel's understudy for Elizabeth on Broadway, absolutely delivers on the vocals created for a superstar. The show needed a powerhouse singer in the lead, and Burns is it. She does the best she can with the character, but character isn't a priority in this musical, except insofar as someone's choices advance a parlor-game thesis one way or another.

None of these relatively young, happy New Yorkers have any real flaws of a soul-vexing variety. They are all vaguely wonderful and must work hard even to distinguish themselves from one another. Rapp, known for originating the role of Mark in RENT on Broadway, largely succeeds as Lucas. Jacques C. Smith delivers a tepid Stephen and Matthew Hydzik sings a nice score and is pleasant looking as Josh. That's what we're talking about.

On the other hand, a song by Liz in the second act, I Hate You, full of grief and rumination, is brilliantly written and scored and sung and staged. So if you are considering seeing If/Then, you might consider walking through a museum.

It's not George Bernard Shaw. More like a painting in a gallery with some interesting features. You look at it, and admire its qualities and the skill it took to produce it. Then you move on.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

Comments
Your 4-year-old daughter could land a role in ‘Waitress’ at the Straz

Your 4-year-old daughter could land a role in ‘Waitress’ at the Straz

TAMPA — Could your 4-year-old be the next Lulu? A touring Broadway show wants to find out. Waitress, which runs April 24-29 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, is looking for a local 4- to 5-year old to play a small but c...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Top things to do on Friday, Feb. 23

Top things to do on Friday, Feb. 23

Blast Friday: The Romantics: The family-friendly food and craft vendor festival featuring a free live concert and a beer garden. 5:30 p.m., 400 Block of Cleveland Street, Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street, Clearwater. Free. (727) 464-7200. Pasco C...
Published: 02/23/18
The Florida Orchestra taps composer Michael Ippolito to capture the state’s sound

The Florida Orchestra taps composer Michael Ippolito to capture the state’s sound

ST. PETERSBURG — The composer sat in semi-darkness, his hand drifting like a slow pendulum at his side. On the Mahaffey Theater stage, the violins led a creaking and mysterious journey through a cypress swamp, the inspiration for the first movement.T...
Published: 02/23/18
An original clarinet and bassoon composition highlights Tampa Bay Symphony concert

An original clarinet and bassoon composition highlights Tampa Bay Symphony concert

ST. PETERSBURG — After the National Anthem and some introductory remarks by the maestro, a teacher from Chattanooga, Tenn., addressed a crowd at the Palladium Tuesday about the short work they were about to hear from the Tampa Bay Symphony."This piec...
Published: 02/21/18
Orchestra debuts commissioned work, slam poet Neil Hilborn performs in Ybor

Orchestra debuts commissioned work, slam poet Neil Hilborn performs in Ybor

FLORIDA ORCHESTRA: NEW BLOODOne of the more significant Florida Orchestra events of the season, the world premiere of a commissioned piece, is this weekend. The orchestra, with personal financial backing from music director Michael Francis and his wi...
Published: 02/21/18
Review: A seemingly inexhaustible shelf life continues in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’

Review: A seemingly inexhaustible shelf life continues in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’

TAMPA Apparently, the Phantom lives forever.Thirty-two years after its premiere, one of the top-grossing musicals of all time is still packing ’em in. Sunday’s matinee at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts showed why Andrew Lloyd ...
Published: 02/19/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Trumpeter is the highlight of a concert featuring ‘West Side Story’ themes

Trumpeter is the highlight of a concert featuring ‘West Side Story’ themes

TAMPA — Leonard Bernstein would have turned 100 this year. The Florida Orchestra performed two of his works Friday, the second of which paired the dances from West Side Story with the overture to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet.The orches...
Published: 02/17/18
Five things that make Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta’ different and fun

Five things that make Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta’ different and fun

TAMPA — Cirque du Soleil is back in town with a new show.The Montreal-based company always puts on an extravaganza, splashing around color with the abandon of a toddler playing with paint buckets and a storyline several layers deep, the artistic skel...
Published: 02/16/18
Updated: 02/18/18
On stage this weekend: Trumpeter Haken Hardenberger, Complexions Contemporary Ballet

On stage this weekend: Trumpeter Haken Hardenberger, Complexions Contemporary Ballet

FLORIDA ORCHESTRA: ROMEO AND JULIET The Florida Orchestra has lined up a romantic evening. This weekend’s concert, Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story, pays tribute to Tchaikovsky and Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein’s prelude, Fugues and R...
Published: 02/14/18
‘Brownsville Song’ at Stageworks tells important story but falls short on believability

‘Brownsville Song’ at Stageworks tells important story but falls short on believability

TAMPA — In some ways, the latest offering at Stageworks Theatre comes loaded with promise.A young man with a lot of motivation, personality and wisdom dies in a random and violent way. In telling his story, we also get a glimpse of life in a Brooklyn...
Published: 02/12/18