Idina Menzel, whose most recent triumph is singing the Oscar-winning song “Let It Go,” in the Disney movie “Frozen,” has made a triumphant return to Broadway in the new musical “If/Then” at the Richard Rodgers Theater on West 46th Street.
Menzel stars as Elizabeth, a woman who isn’t sure what her name should be. A new artsy friend named Kate (LaChanze) wants her to be called Liz, while an old friend named Lucas (Anthony Rapp) prefers her as Beth.
Nominated for a Tony Award for her role as Maureen in “Rent,” Menzel, 42, won the award as the witch Elphaba in “Wicked” in 2004.
Like a choose-your-own adventure book, the audience gets to follow Menzel, where the same settings are shown with alternate dialogue and action. She’s single in New York and looking for a man and a job. Her first test is at a park where she’ll decide if she should listen to a guy play guitar there or attend a protest.
Along the way, she draws the affection of three men, each of whom affects her in a different way. We’re presented with two different possibilities of lives she can make for herself as she tries to see whether or not a relationship can work with a good-looking soldier, named Josh, played by Josh Snyder. In another scenario, her desires may put her job at risk. In making her choices, she’s forced to select idealism or stability.
“Starting Over” is the show’s best song, and Menzel also is mesmerizing on “Here I Go,” and extremely effective when she takes it down a notch in “Learn To Live Without.”
Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics), who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for “Next To Normal,” present a more upbeat show here, though there are some dark moments that don’t fit (like one involving an airplane). The show is slightly confusing at the outset, but there’s nothing wrong with making an audience work a little.
Though inspiring, “If/Then” doesn’t have a hit song on the level of “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked.” Rapp has a sweet voice and he does well with the dorky chic look but in terms of pipes, he and Snyder are not only not in the same ballpark as Menzel, they’re not even in the same city.
Yorkey skillfully depicts some New York City single daters who are losers, namely a trader played by Joe Aaron Reid. The smartest song depicts Elizabeth’s confusion. The audience may be surprised at who she winds up in bed with during a song with a lyric in the title that rhymes with shmuck.
The musical suffers from a lack of tension and some lyrics feel forced. But the dialogue is more realistic than that of most musicals, with a feel for how New Yorkers actually speak. Case in point is Josh, a guy from Nebraska who isn’t used to asking girls out. (He takes rejection very well, though).
The show, which includes topical issues such as gay marriage, bisexuality, zoning and urban planning, and the beauty of resisting the status quo, points out that much of our lives rely on chance.