Idina Menzel plays two versions of the same woman in “If/Then.” (Courtesy Joan Marcus)

Fate vs. will pondered in pleasant ‘If/Then’

It’s the 21st century, and Elizabeth seems to have it all. She’s actually Liz and Beth, and she’s the protagonist of “If/Then,” the pleasant if somewhat perplexing new musical onstage at the Orpheum Theatre in The City.

In a role created for her by Brian Yorkey (book, lyrics) and Tom Kitt (music) of Tony Award-winning “Next to Normal” fame, Broadway belter Idina Menzel plays the two versions of the woman, a New Yorker who returns home after living in Phoenix where her marriage dissolved.

Beth is the career woman, an up-and-coming planner who gets a prime job with the city. Liz, even though hesitant about relationships, finds love with a doctor who admires her on the street.

With a slew of very similar uptempo songs like “What If,” “It’s a Sign,” “You Never Know” and “Here I Go,” the writers hammer home the topic of fate vs. free will, and how random incidents can have as dramatic an effect on life as do direct actions.

While an interesting concept, the themes don’t play out profoundly or emotionally, perhaps because audiences, particularly in Act 1, are preoccupied simply trying to keep up with Liz, Beth and their circle of friends and lovers: sassy kindergarten teacher Kate (LaChanze), snappy activist Lucas (Anthony Rapp), earnest surgeon Josh (James Snyder), no-nonsense planning official Stephen (Daren A. Herbert), Kate’s sweetheart Anne (Janine DiVita) and Lucas’ paramour David (Marc Delacruz).

The threads coalesce in Act 2, as crisis arises.

Even though it’s busy, with somewhat uninspired strutting choreography and set pieces that rotate a tad too much, “If/Then” is nonetheless engaging, packed with first-rate performances by Broadway pros.

They make the utmost of their supporting characters, and each gets a standout solo (or more). At moments, they’re more interesting than Beth/Liz.

Still, in the end, “If/Then” does belong to Menzel, who truly gets to bust out, “Frozen”-style, in a couple of anthems that bring the show to fitting close.

REVIEW
If/Then

Presented by SHN
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Dec. 6
Tickets: $50 to $212
Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com

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