IF/THEN A GREAT SHOW FOR FANS OF THEATRE, NOT SO MUCH FOR FANS OF FROZEN
If/Then, the new musical boasting music and lyrics by Next to Normal duo Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, and featuring the return of Broadway powerhouse Idina Menzel, is a different kind of show, and its main character Liz/Beth is a different kind of hero. I was attracted to the piece initially because of the reunion of the Next to Normal team, and throughout the performance, I found myself comparing the two shows.
Whether she’s Liz or Beth, Elizabeth has more control of herself than Next to Normal’s Diana. Diana is completely dependent on her family members; Dan and Natalie’s stories revolve around tending to Diana. However, in If/Then, Liz/Beth drives her own story — and we see that story unfold through her eyes, rather than the eyes of the supporting players.
Presumably because of Elizabeth’s independence and forward-thinking, there’s a lot of stage time devoted to her pouring her heart out through song, usually as the sole person on stage. Of course, this is a Broadway musical, so it’s expected that the lead have the most solos and stage time — and those solos are not at all a bad thing, as they showcase Menzel’s magnificent belt and extraordinary vocal range. But as I watched the show, structured in this way of lead-has-something-to-say-so-she-gets-up- and-sings, I wondered what specifically drew audience members to see this piece.
Did they come for the show itself, to be transported by a completely original piece of theatre, written by the duo known to theatre geeks for crafting 2009 sensation Next to Normal? Or were they drawn in by powerhouse Menzel — someone best known to Broadway nerds for her roles in Rent and Wicked, before she took America by (snow)storm in Frozen?
I liked the show. I really did. I thought it was creative to have Elizabeth jump between Liz and Beth, and found her story heartwarming and satisfying in the end. I also saw musical parallels with Next to Normal, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
But for the majority of the general audience, on the heels of Frozen’s success, I don’t think they were attracted to Idina Menzel, the Broadway superstar, as much as they were to seeing “Elsa” live in front of them. Many came for the Frozen star and then realized, “wait, this is a much more adult show.” Of course, that may be me projecting a bit, but there’s certainly no doubt Menzel’s recent rise in popularity can be partially attributed to her work in the Pixar flick and that gosh-darn infectious anthem “Let It Go.”
And, while I’m a huge Idina fan and respect her for everything she does — there’s no doubt “Idina Menzel is a blazing supernova,” as the ad outside the theatre proudly states, and “The Hottest Name on Broadway,” according to another Stagelight article — I couldn’t help but wonder, in the style of the show, If Menzel didn’t have the Frozen fame, then would the show be as popular?