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If/Then: Power of Choices versus Fate

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Written by Jessica Deters

Posted on 16 March 2014

If_Then-Marquee_Jessica-DetersOne choice, two lives. "If/Then", which opens on Broadway on March 30, follows Elizabeth, a 30-something who recently moved back to the Big Apple after a failed, decade-long marriage in Arizona. Elizabeth plans to meet up with an old friend at Madison Square Park to begin her new life in New York City. One friend, Kate, played by Tony award winning actress LaChanze for her role in "The Color Purple," says Liz returned to the city to find her true love. Another friend, Lucas, played by Broadway veteran Anthony Rapp, believes Beth came to the city to advance her career as an urban planner. In that moment, Elizabeth, played by Tony Award-winning best actress Idina Menzel, must choose whether to follow Kate, becoming Liz and discovering a new love or to follow Lucas and eventually become successful urban planner Beth. What difference does one choice make anyways?

Each path unfolds and Elizabeth lives out the next years of her life having made each respective choice. Down one road Beth finds herself in a dream career, leaving her mark on the New York City landscape, but her love life is quite simply a hot mess. Down the other Liz finds love—real, true love—but advancing her career falls by the wayside.

This original musical—the only musical opening this spring with a completely new and authentic story and score—crafted by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, Pulitzer winners for their musical "Next to Normal," opened at the Richard Rodgers Theater on Broadway for Previews on March 5.

The new-age concept coupled with the immense star power of Idina Menzel make "If/Then" a must-see. Menzel is best known for voicing Elsa in the new Disney film "Frozen" as well as for originating the role of Elphaba in "Wicked", for which she won a Tony. Menzel and "If/Then" costar Rapp play old friends in the new musical, which is quite accurate as the two also co-starred in the original Broadway production of "Rent" 18 years ago.

"If/Then" explores the power of choices. A choice as simple as deciding to answer the phone or deciding to go to Starbucks in the morning can change the course of a person's life. "If/Then" is not the first work to explore this idea—that of one choice altering a person's life course. "Sliding Doors", a 1998 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow, depicts the power of a simple event in the course a person's life takes. As Helen Quilley (Paltrow) rushes to work, she barely catches (or barely misses) a subway train. Her making or missing that train completely alters her life. One road takes her to a new love. The other keeps her with a cheating fiancée. The plot unfolds the two parallel universes, exploring the power of one train ride to alter Helen's life.

Though the idea of parallel lives has been explored before by other works, "If/Then" is the first to do so in a musical format. "If/Then" portrays life. Nothing is sugar-coated. Nothing is brushed over. Nothing is off-limits. The production proves to be an incredibly moving and thought-provoking work, portraying gay, lesbian, and biracial relationships, the challenges of becoming attached to a soldier and the fleeting nature of time in an effortless manner. "If/Then" manages to portray each relationship as simply another aspect of life--not something to be debated or even something worth dissenting over.

The incredibly powerful musical holds nothing back and even brings its audience to tears. It explores the idea of all of the other versions of self who are living different lives because one thing went differently along the way. "If/Then" resonates with audience members in a way most musicals cannot because it tackles a concept that impacts everyone as well as featuring challenges that most face throughout their lives.
As daunting as it may be to think that every choice leads away from one life and toward another, "If/Then" offers a little piece of solace to viewers. Perhaps, despite the choices made, both good and bad, everyone ends up where they belong.
Colorado School of Mines

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