There are musicals that can define you in a way; they speak to you at a time in your life. Twenty years ago, people my age saw that in RENT. We were young, we were trying to figure out who we were and pay our bills. And 20 years later, although we don’t have Jonathan Larson voicing our struggle, we have Brian Yorkey’s If/Then.
True confession here. I was fortunate enough to catch this production on Broadway last March, just weeks before it closed. I love this soundtrack 100%. The music, the story, the set. (Well, the Broadway set. There are a few differences with the tour set. On Broadway, Mark Wendland’s set was almost another character in the play. On tour that’s a near impossibility.) I could not wait to see this production at PPAC, especially knowing that there were some of the original Broadway performers in the show.
The show follows a woman, Elizabeth Vaugn, as she makes a simple decision in a park one day; going left gives her one life, going right another. It’s a relatable musical with contemporary themes as we witness how a simple decision changed not only one life, but a few lives.
Jackie Burns plays the role of Elizabeth/Liz/Beth, depending on the storyline you are watching. Her voice is never weak, and gets stronger with each song. By the time she sings “Always Starting Over” you want to cheer with her in your seat. Her voice fills every square inch of the theater, and you can’t help but wonder how she does not have a CD out yet. And yes, this is a musical so their singing chops are important, but for a moment I want, no I need, to focus on her acting chops. Her comedic timing is top-notch. She finds the humor in this fantastic script, and delivers it with such grace that you at times don’t realize you’re watching a show that has more serious tones in it. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see her on the big screen delivering laughs. (What are you waiting for, Tina Fey? Write something for Jackie Burns!)
Anthony Rapp is quite simply modern theater royalty. His career includes the original Marc in RENT, Charlie Brown in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and of course in If/Then. I’m not going to mince words here, you should buy a ticket to ensure that you’re able to see him perform. His character has two distinct paths as well, which you would think would be confusing or haphazard for an actor, but an actor of Rapp’s caliber delivers a performance that is not to be missed!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Janine Davita’s portrayal of Anne was stunning, and Matthew Hydzick’s performance as Joshua was charming. Tamara Gray has come a long way since her American Idol days.
If/Then runs thru Sunday, June 19. Tickets can be purchased online at ppacri.org, or by calling the box office at 402-421-2787.