PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 29-April 4: If/Then Opens and Raisin Receives Glowing Reviews

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04 Apr 2014

Idina Menzel
Idina Menzel
Joseph Marzullo/WENN

John Travolta's favorite tongue-twister, Idina Menzel, made her long-in-coming return to Broadway this week, when If/Then, the new musical by Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal writers Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, which officially bowed at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. 

Though the world at large may know Menzel as the voice behind "Let It Go" from "Frozen" — now the most successful animated film in history — theatregoers still think of her as the original Elphaba in Wicked, a role she won a Tony for a full decade ago.

In the new show, Menzel plays a woman who journeys down two possible roads to self discovery. Michael Greif, Menzel's old Rent helmsman, directed the production. To make it even more of a family reunion, Anthony Rapp is a member of the cast.

Critics were mighty glad to have Menzel back on the midtown boards. But their praise was often a double-edged sword, for it often came paired with a knock on the show itself.

"As advertised, If/Then unfolds at the crossroad of 'choice and chance,'" wrote the Daily News. "Problem is, that intersection is around the corner from banality and been-there-heard-this-before. If Menzel wasn't around with her big belt and mellow warmth, there would be no reason to visit at all." The New York Post seconded that thought, saying, "If/Then would be DOA without Idina Menzel. The star holds this ambitious but unwieldy show together. Actually, she does more than that: She gathers a bunch of messy parts, and gives them life, emerging triumphant in the process." And AP added: "A show with so much potential is marred by poor editing. So, the overall answer is, if you really, really need to see and hear Menzel, then go and watch an actress wonderfully giving it her all."

Others however, liked both the show and the star, and voiced that opinion in strong terms. "We are meant to feel a bit off-balance, a little disoriented, maybe even confused in parts of If/Then — and that's the sharp point," state Newsday. "In this intelligent, surprising, altogether original new musical, the main character is a 39-year-old divorced woman, Elizabeth, who returns to New York after 12 years as a wife in Phoenix. This is a fork-in-the-road show, a back-to-the-future entertainment in which we briefly see the consequences of different roads taken... Greif's gleaming, inventive production has lots of moving parts, including double-decker sets by Mark Wendland that add more levels with a mirror that adds layers of ceiling and sky. Disorienting? Indeed, but in attractive, unpredictable ways."

New York Magazine also approved and, as did a few other reviews, gave Greif a lot of credit. "You absolutely never know what is going to happen, right up to the last, surprisingly moving beat," said the weekly. "You appreciate its addressing the central dilemma of career vs. family in a very direct way and then, quietly but completely, undermining it in the end. That it does all this while also looking as beautiful, and moving as smoothly, as any modern show could, with superior performances from top to bottom from a gorgeously multi-everything cast, are just some of the signs that the director Michael Greif is offering his finest work to date."

***

Also opening this week was that hero of the Broadway box office, Denzel Washington, in the latest incarnation of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, which officially opened April 3 at the Barrymore Theatre, where the original production of the play opened 55 years ago.

Washington is that rare Broadway star who has the potential to light both the reservation lines and the critics on fires. His last visit to the Street, Fences, was both a box-office and critical hit. So far, in previews, Raisin is already a sellout attraction.



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