Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp appear in “If/Then,” onstage at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. (Courtesy Joan Marcus)

‘If/Then’ comes to S.F. with Broadway stars

A woman who gets to go in both directions at a major fork in her life’s road is the central theme of the musical “If/Then,” written by Tony Award-winners Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt.

“People don’t fundamentally change, but the circumstances of their lives and the things that they endure shape them and their responses to the world and their outlook,” says librettist Yorkey, describing the show in which newly divorced Elizabeth decides between forging a new identity as Liz, or returning to interests she pursued but set aside as youthful Beth.

Both options play out over the course of the evening in the 2014 play starring Idina Menzel, which opens this week at the Orpheum Theatre.

“One of the exciting things in writing this show was to be able to find that same woman in two different worlds and uncover the different ways she’d express herself, the different concerns she’d have based on where her life was going,” says Yorkey.

Translating those facets musically was composer Kitt’s job. He says, “I wanted to create themes that would really be applied to the different tracks so people could sort of locate where they are. At the center of it all is Idina and you want the score to celebrate all the great gifts that she has. She has was I call a ‘stop everything you’re doing’ voice.”

Having the original star go on tour is a retro treat from the days of Mary Martin and Ethel Merman. Even better, Menzel is joined on tour by Broadway co-stars LaChanze (“The Color Purple”), James Snyder (“Cry-Baby”) and Anthony Rapp, her colleague from the “Rent” era.

“I’m still amazed by it,” says Yorkey. “I think we’re really blessed to have them touring and I’m excited for people who didn’t get a chance to see them in New York.”

Kitt agrees: “It’s incredibly gratifying that these performers who have many things pulling on them have chosen to be with us. I’m so glad that they love the piece and feel so passionate about continuing to tell the story.”

Yorkey and Kitt, friends from college days, wrote a 10-minute workshop sketch that became the 2009 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical “Next to Normal.” Recent independent projects include Kitt composing or collaborating on four Broadway ventures including Green Day’s “American Idiot” and Yorkey providing the book to Sting’s “The Last Ship.”

IF YOU GO
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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