Sometimes in Broadway legend, the understudy takes over for the star and becomes a star on her/his own. In the case of the hit show, If/Then, playing tonight through Sunday evening at the Durham Performing Arts Center, the understudy (Jackie Burns, who stars as Elizabeth) has taken the show on the road; and in a lot of respects, she has embodied the best of the Broadway original (starring Tony Award®-winning Idina Menzel, who also played Elizabeth for the first seven cities on the show’s 2015-16 tour), and made the role her own by baring her heart and leaving her soul on the middle of the stage during the play’s opening-night performance at DPAC on May 24th.
If/Then, starring Broadway cast members Jackie Burns (Elizabeth) and Anthony Rapp (Lucas), and American Idol and Broadway star Tamyra Gray (Kate), delivers a roundhouse punch, making the audience laugh, inspiring them to think, and then, in one smooth and devastating move, bringing them to tears.
Though the big voices and terrific acting in this show deserve a great deal of attention, the story is what fascinates the audience. And we’re not throwing shade on the singers/actors, who are powerhouse singers and as strong as (or stronger) than their Broadway counterparts. But the story is brilliant. What’s interesting about If/Then is that it speaks to current working adults in their thirties who are dealing with the very contemporary dilemma: maybe-I-want-to-be-single or should-I-follow-tradition-and-procreate? By ping-ponging from one possible life to the other, the story explores all of the ramifications felt by our choices. It doesn’t hurt that the creative team of Tom Kitt (composer), Brian Yorkey (book writer/lyricist), and Michael Greif (director) is amazing.
Elizabeth (or Liz or Beth), a 38-year-old city planner who struggles with determining whether she is where she wants to be in her life, starts the show questioning her role in life. Trying to answer the question sends Elizabeth into a round of “what-if” questions, and suddenly the audience follows what might have happened if Elizabeth (or Liz or Beth) made a key decision that was just a bit different than another possible decision, and how that decision could cause a domino effect in the happenings of her life
Joining the company in the opening number “What If?,” Jackie Burns introduces herself and displays an early hint at the incredibly controlled weapon she has: a voice that can fill any theater without the help of any microphone. Instantly, one is reminded of the great theater voice of Idina Menzel, so it is no surprise since Burns has been a standby for Menzel on more than one occasion. One is also reminded of the television songstress Lea Michele (Glee) whose rich voice harkened comparisons with Barbra Streisand’s. Burns’ voice is a warmer, grittier version of her colleagues’; and her version of Elizabeth could bring the show to any Broadway theater. There is no one who could portray the part of Elizabeth any better than Burns.
What makes this show even better is that Burns isn’t the only actor perfectly cast in this show. Matthew Hydzik, who plays Josh, has starred in other Broadway productions. Josh, the love interest in one of Elizabeth’s lives, is the brave Marine, the All-American who both charms and challenges her when she finally sees that the signs are leading her to him. Their chemistry is evident onstage during their romantic scenes, as well as during their duets. “Here I Go” and “I Hate You” are emotion-packed songs that give them both a chance to exercise their chops, as well as to deepen their story line.
But theirs is not the only love story affected by decisions made in this compelling musical. Elizabeth has been battling the temptation to fall into a safe romantic relationship with the man who’s been her best friend and support system through the years, Lucas (Anthony Rapp, one of the original stars in the Broadway production of If/Then). He’s the safe one — the one who is always there to hear her rant and to catch her when she falls. He loves her. In one of the incarnations of Elizabeth’s life, Lucas ends up in bed with Elizabeth; but in the other version, he finds his own unconditional happiness with the love of his life, David (played by Marc Delacruz), a doctor who’s friends with Josh. It is this relationship which suits Lucas best. Though this gay couple has their fair share of differences, the love they share is sweet and evident, especially in their duet, “Best Worst Mistake.” Though their voices are not stadium-reaching, as Burns’ is, the sweet raspiness of Rapp’s voice, combined with the quirkiness of Delacruz’s, is another winning combination.
Lucas and Josh aren’t the only men who might have been part of Elizabeth’s love life over the years. She also skirts a meaningful relationship with her colleague Stephen (Jacques C. Smith), a married man who’s tempted by Elizabeth’s charm but manages to stay on his side of the married fence and to remain with his wife (probably a wise move). Smith’s voice is smooth and competent, but he doesn’t soar to the height that the other actors in If/Then did on opening night.
One of the pleasures of the evening is listening to Tamyra Gray’s moments (too few and far between) on stage. Cast as Kate, Elizabeth’s friend and confidante, she, too, is part of a love duo with her partner Anne (Janine DiVita). When Gray is on stage, her voice competes with the others. Confident and on pitch, it grabs the lyrics and squeezes them as if she’s determined to wring every drop of emotion from them. And she does, but so does everyone else!
Durham is incredibly lucky to have such a venue as the Durham Performing Arts Center in its downtown area; but to be honest, with a show like this, many would travel far from their backyard to hear the powerhouse vocals of Burns and Gray, to experience the acting of Rapp and Hydzik, and to be caught up in the creative intelligence of Kitt and Yorkey’s incredible story of love in today’s world. It’s a wonderful show that will make you laugh and nod in recognition. It will tug at your heartstrings and remind you of the finite nature of our lives. If you don’t feel all of your emotions stretched and tested at least once or twice during this musical, you aren’t living.
Though none of the songs in this musical are recognizable to the general public (yet), this cast, this music, and this story are fated to be part of the great American songbook. So, see it now!
SECOND OPINION: May 26th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/05/dpacs-ifthen-is-fresh-fun-and-fabulous/; May 25th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-IFTHEN-National-Tour-at-Durham-Performing-Arts-Center-20160525 and May 13th interview with actress English Bernhardt, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-English-Bernhardt-of-IFTHEN-National-Tour-20160513; May 25th Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/review-if-then-a-fresh-take-on-choices/article_88027a42-22b8-11e6-8dfd-b77c940c2658.html and May 19th preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/if-then-star-talks-about-chances-rent-dazed-and-confused/article_18dcb524-1d4f-11e6-b165-33e2d1e613da.html (Note: You must subscribe to read these articles); May 25th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/if-then/Event?oid=4988815; May 25th Burlington, NC Times-News review by Lincoln Pennington for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/ifthen-a-compelling-portrayal-of-everyday-life/ and May 12th preview by Lincoln Pennington for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/raleigh-native-returns-to-area-with-ifthen/; May 23rd Fayetteville, NC Fayetteville Observer interview with actor Anthony Rapp, conducted by Brooke Carbo: http://www.fayobserver.com/living/arts_theater/rent-star-brings-if-then-to-the-stage-in-durham/article_600785dc-c915-5f55-9f53-c07aaff387f0.html; and May 20th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article78869177.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the May 24th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/05/on-may-24-29-at-dpac-raleighs-english-bernhardt-will-join-two-veterans-of-ifthen-on-broadway/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents IF/THEN at 7:30 p.m. May 26, 8 p.m. May 27, 2 and 8 p.m. May 28, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. May 29 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $30-$115. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), tickets@DPACnc.com, or http://www.DPACnc.com/events-tickets/where-to-buy.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/2117654.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.DPACnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
SHOW: http://www.DPACnc.com/events/detail/ifthen and https://www.facebook.com/events/832262530250995/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://ifthenthemusical.com/video.php and https://www.youtube.com/c/ifthenmusical.
THE TOUR: http://ifthenthemusical.com/home and https://www.ibdb.com/Production/View/500921.
TOUR CAST: http://ifthenthemusical.com/cast.php.
TOUR CREATIVE TEAM: http://ifthenthemusical.com/creative.php.
DPAC NEWS RELEASE: http://www.DPACnc.com/news/detail/casting-announced-for-ifthen-national-tour.
DPAC‘S SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.DPACnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2016-17.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.DPACnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, May 28th, performance.
If/Then (2014 Broadway musical): http://ifthenthemusical.com/home (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/Show/View/495050 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/ifthenmusical/ (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/IfThenMusical (Twitter [page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If/Then (Wikipedia).
Tom Kitt (music): http://www.tomkittband.com/ (official website of The Tom Kitt Band), https://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/100673 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Kitt_%28musician%29 (Wikipedia).
Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics): https://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/483138 (Internet Broadway Database) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Yorkey (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.