Nancy Sasso Janis
- OnStage Connecticut Critic
“Make a map of NYC, where I’ve been and who I’ll be, and you’ll find me…”
Hartford, CT - ‘If/Then,’ another uniquely punctuated [title of show] for my summer reviews, opened the 2016-2017 Broadway Season at the Bushnell on Wednesday evening. Hartford is the next-to-last stop in the current leg of the tour and welcomes UCONN alumna Jackie Burns (who grew up in Middletown and Ivoryton) back to Connecticut to lead the cast in this new musical with music by Tom Kitt and books and lyrics by Brian Yorkey (‘Next to Normal.’) It tells the moving story of a contemporary 38-year-old woman named Elizabeth who has moved back to New York City for a fresh start after a divorce.
The plot is all about the choices that Elizabeth (as “Liz” and “Beth) makes that affect the trajectory of her new life. The book has been criticized as being difficult to follow, specifically that the audience has trouble keeping track of the two distinct paths as they unfold. Despite the eyeglasses worn by Liz and changes in the projections for the scenes, there is some validity to that point. I quickly chose to simply enjoy the music (and the humor) and be in the moment for each scene, and in hindsight discovered that I hadn’t mixed up the two possible life tracks at all. The work is like a complicated puzzle that eventually works itself out, punctuated with some excellent music on both of the distinct paths. The orchestra was conducted by Kyle C. Norris and four touring musicians welcomed ten local musicians to the pit to play the beautiful orchestrations by Michael Starobin.
The set designed by Mark Wendland had the look of a very NYC fire escape and an entire snug city apartment, backed by the helpful projections designed by Peter Nigrini and Dan Scully. Contemporary costumes designed by Emily Rebholz worked well on everyone and lighting by Kenneth Posner improved the look of everything.
Ms. Burns is returning to many of the cities where she played Elphaba in Wicked, a role that she subsequently played on Broadway. She was also a member of the original cast of ‘If/Then’ on Broadway as the standby for Elizabeth (Idina Menzel) until it closed in March of 2105. In January of this year, the Idina Menzel lookalike joined the National Tour of If/Then as the full time Elizabeth replacing Ms. Menzel (who played the first seven lucky cities) in Dallas TX.
I saw Ms. Menzel in her 2012 “Barefoot at the Symphony” concert on the Bushnell stage (well before she became more famous due to the ‘Frozen’ mania,) so I would have loved to experience her performance as Elizabeth if Hartford had been scheduled to be one of the first seven cities. However, Ms. Burns was superb in the leading role, with a powerful voice that sounded eerily similar to that of the very first Elphaba on Broadway and I was not disappointed in the least with anything about this touring company production. Whether singing as Liz or Beth, this singing actress raised the rafters of the Bushnell.
It was so exciting to see Anthony Rapp as Lucas, the featured role that he originated on Broadway. (The only other member of tour that was in the original Broadway cast is Tyler McGee, who plays a street musician with a guitar and other roles.) Mr. Rapp originated the role of Mark Cohen in the Broadway production of ‘Rent’ in 1996 and later reprised the role in the film version and the Broadway Tour of ‘Rent’ in 2009. He was cute and funny, and despite a comment he made on the director’s cut of the film version of ‘Rent’ disparaging his own dance moves, he danced well enough with the other members of the cast.
Matthew Hydzik brought plenty of warmth and good looks to the role of Army veteran doctor Josh. He also appeared on Broadway as Buddy in ‘Side Show’ and Tony in ‘West Side Story.’ Tamyra Gray appeared in the inaugural season of ‘American Idol’ and also was part of ‘Rent’ on Broadway. Here she sang beautifully as Elizabeth’s friend and kindergarten teacher Kate. Janine DiVita (‘Anything Goes’) played her girlfriend. Jacques C. Smith (‘Rent’ on Broadway) was sublime in the role of Stephen and Marc Delacruz, who was the understudy for the role of David on Broadway, is now full-time in the role of the young doctor.
The other talented and very busy members of the cast included English Bernhardt (in her first national tour as Paulette,) Charissa Bertels, Xavier Cano, Trey Ellett, Kyra Faith, Corey Greenan, Cliffton Hall, Deedee Magno Hall, Mr. McGee, Joseph Morales, Emily Rogers, and Alicia Taylor Tomasko.
This tour of what is a very ambitious production is completely professional and I loved it. If/Then’ continues at the Bushnell in Hartford through August 7. Be aware that the show contains strong language and mature themes.