Taking a chance on unproven 'If/Then' is one decision you won't regret

Friday, March 25, 2016 | by: Mat DeKinder

We all have made choices in our lives that have left us wondering how things might have been different if we had selected a different path.

The new musical “If/Then,” currently on its first national tour through March 27, at the Fox Theatre, takes an inspired deep dive on the subject of life choices.

This is the story of Elizabeth (Jackie Burns), a woman in her late 30s who returns to New York City after suffering through a divorce.

“If/Then” looks at one seemingly-innocent, but fateful decision made by Elizabeth while meeting two friends in the park. Does she stay and listen to music with her free-spirited pal Kate (one-time “American Idol” contestant Tamyra Gray) or does she go to a street protest with her civic-minded college buddy Lucas (Broadway mainstay Anthony Rapp, who also originated the role)?

We get to see both choices play out on a parallel track as we follow Elizabeth’s life over the next few years. The Elizabeth that stays in the park opts to go by Liz (and decides to don a pair of image-changing glasses, which helps cut down on the confusion as we switch back and forth.)

Liz meets cute Josh (Matthew Hydzik), an earnest, Nebraska-born surgeon in the Army Reserve, who has just returned from a tour in Afghanistan. Josh wins Liz over and while her professional ambitions flounder, her life with Josh takes flight.

The Elizabeth that goes with Lucas doesn’t meet Josh, adopts the moniker of Beth and stumbles upon a great job as a city planner thanks to an old college boyfriend Stephen (Daren A. Herbert). Beth’s career turns out to be a rocket ship to the stars, but her love life hits more than a few bumps in the road.

Both versions of Elizabeth are headstrong, analytical and independent, but we see differences in the two (subtly, but effectively, pulled off by Burns) as the type of person we become is influenced by the people we surround ourselves with.

Of course, the people in our lives are affected by our decisions as well, as Lucas, Kate and Kate’s girlfriend Anne (Janine DiVita) find their lives spun off in different directions thanks to either Liz or Beth.

While this all sounds potentially very confusing, the show does a good job of keeping things straight with the help of some clever set design and a rotating stage.

The songs are all solid, with most helping to propel the plot forward. Songs like “Here I Go,” “No More Wasted Time,” “What the F***?” and “Always Starting Over” are standouts and most provide an opportunity for Burns to impress with her outstanding vocals.

Even though “If/Then” is smart, fresh and engaging (and about actual adults to boot!), the biggest draw here is the cast, which is as close to pure Broadway quality you are ever going to get out here in flyover country.

Gray is a delight and Rapp’s resume more than speaks for itself (for me he will always be the nerdy/horny tagalong Daryl from “Adventures in Babysitting”). But, it is Burns who stands out the most as an absolute star. She worked on the show on Broadway as a stand-in for superstar (and John Travolta’s favorite singer) Idina Menzel — and the drop off is not all that drastic.

Burns is one of the best female leads to come through St. Louis in a touring performance in a long, long time.

So even though this is a new show without a proven track record, take a chance on “If/Then.” Not seeing this musical is one decision you won’t want to look back on in regret.

“If/Then” is playing now through March 27, at the Fox Theatre. For tickets, call 314-534-1111 or go tometrotix.com.

Filed Under: theater reviews