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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

If/Then And Lost Opportunities--Like, What If They'd Had More Original Ideas About The Road Not Taken?

Jackie Burns
We were fortunate to have been gifted with comp seats to If/Then's touring show. A fabulous acting company headed by Jackie Burns as Elizabeth, alternatively known as Liz and Beth--an actor-killer role, onstage nearly all-night, with constant, instant costume changes (At least no wigs!) and ballad after ballad after ballad until the final, throat-ripping ballad, Always Starting Over. (Libretto and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, Score by Tom Kitt.) 

Charissa Bertels

I liked the understudy we saw as the, um, wacky, (sorry, that does seem the best word) free-spirited Kate, a cheery Charissa Bertels. 
Anthony Rapp
Anthony Rapp was believable and charming and understated as Lucas, her ambisexual best-friend/erst-while lover. 

Matthew Hydzick was Josh, a doctor/soldier/fantasy-husband guy. (He also, briefly, played another near-perfect soldier who I think was named Jason, but it could have been Josh, alive because of the What Ifs. I know that was confusing. It was confusing last night, too.) Hydzick was delightful and believable, which is high-praise given how damned perfect the guy is supposed to be, and his song, beautifully delivered, is the only one that I remember of all the interchangeable ballads in the show. (My little one said, "some of the songs sounded like Disney and one of them sounded like this other song I know, and one of them sounded like. . ." And she was right.)
Matthew Hydzick

The biggest problem, though was--well, okay. Look, they were writing an original musical from original material, not pirating a short story or a movie or a play or all the other sources that have often been the source of brilliant musicals. Give them credit. 

Plus, they chose an ambitious idea--how do you keep from living your life backwards? 

Stephen Sondheim
But. And. Yet. Ballad after ballad belabored the same point--it's crippling to try to out-guess every moment of your life. Almost every number was some version of Always Sorry, Always Grateful, Sondheim's anthem to ambivalence, (though I often think Sondheim's version of ambivalence is more, "choices are too difficult, so I won't make one." 

Perhaps I have gotten spoiled by Bill Finn's take on that same emotion, being passionately torn between two opposing feelings, as in: "I never wanted--I wanted--I never, never, never, never, never, never wanted to love you." (Marvin from I Never Wanted To Love You, originally in March of the Falsettos.) Or Lin-Manuel Miranda's equally poignant, bitter knowledge of the choices that must be made, scattered throughout Hamilton like mines in a minefield. (A classic example is Angelica Schuyler's heart-racing, heart-rending Satisfied.)

I was also saddened that the choices given to Elizabeth/Liz/Beth were limited to successful career vs. marriage and children. Liz--or Beth--I'm not sure which character went with which story--was a teacher, right? The teachers that I know care passionately about their careers and their students. Why couldn't Liz/Beth's choices have been hard-driven life (albeit for the good of the community) while actively avoiding ties/family/vs. less driven life that takes time for connections, family and community? Or maybe contrast the inherent pain from trying to save the world vs. the inherent pain in being so buried in family/job responsibilities that there's no time left to save the world? 

Still, I'm grateful that we got to go. We saw consummate professionals in a deeply-felt production. We got a rare night out, and some adventure afterwards with a flat tire in an empty part of downtown and a child who desperately had to pee. But that's another story. 

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