‘If/Then’ a compelling portrayal of everyday life

By Lincoln Pennington
Times-News correspondent

   DURHAM – We each make thousands of decisions each day. Most are unconscious, but some are clear crossroads in our lives. However, there are also the seemingly inconsequential decisions that can drastically alter the course of our lives.
The life choices and consequences are the central themes for “If/Then,” the latest Broadway tour to stop at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
The musical tells the story of Elizabeth (Jackie Burns), a city planner who moved back to New York to restart her life. However, the show starts by offering a simple choice before following the hypothetical yet parallel paths that emerge based on her decision.
   While the cast is undoubtedly talented, the show’s creators are the clear stars. The concept is unabashedly complex for a musical, and it challenges the audiences to think rather than enjoy the show passively.
Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, best known for co-creating “Next to Normal,” reunited with director Michael Greif for “If/Then.” Yorkey again provided book and lyrics for Kitt’s score. Michael Greif’s direction of the show captivates the audience and helps lead them effortlessly through the tangled plot lines.
Yorkey’s script offers his signature smart one liners. With Kitt’s score, the show recalls the familiar, upbeat sound of many modern musicals. However, the more memorable songs, like “You Learn to Live Without” and “Always Starting Over,” stand apart during the musical’s darker moments.
The cast shines as an ensemble. The support and collaboration among the actors is evident from the start. However, the nature of the show requires Burns to carry most of the show, and in that, she succeeds.
Taking over a role created by Idina Menzel certainly would intimidate most but Burns manages to own the role and reimagine it for herself. Her comedic timing is precise, and her stellar vocal performance will give you chills before it’s over.
Anthony Rapp (Lucas), Tamyra Gray (Kate) and Matthew Hydzik (Josh) round out the main cast. They deliver outstanding performances, and each finds their moments to shine, providing the perfect balance and contrast to the lead. The plot may center on Elizabeth, but the cast excels at developing each character, allowing the audience to fully invest in the performance.
“If/Then” provides masterful direction, a smart book and memorable score. Its story captures a breadth of human experiences, offering a compelling and authentic perspective on the choices we make each day.

Lincoln Pennington is a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and a Teens & 20s writer.

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