"Once Idina was on board, we all agreed that we wanted to be together again," says LaChanze. "We have a unique bond."
If/Then tells the story of a newly divorced woman named Elizabeth (Menzel), who is starting over in New York, and the two divergent paths her life could take. The show was written by Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics), recipients of the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for their 2009 musical Next to Normal. The musicals also share the same director, Michael Greif.
LaChanze, a Tony winner for her portrayal of Celie in The Color Purple, says she was drawn to the show and the part of Elizabeth's friend Kate for a variety of reasons. "It's a contemporary story and the characters are people that we can all relate to. They're friends of ours, they're family members. The show feels very much like a slice of the city, and a slice of my life today. It deals with reality. And I'm grateful for the opportunity to play a contemporary character and a comedic role. That's not the kind of thing that's usually offered to me. It's also a supporting role, and sometimes playing a supporting character is a nice break; you don't have to focus on carrying the show. Beyond that, I love the meaning of the show, the music, and working with this group of actors."
Returning to the role enables her to further explore a character that she adores. "The best thing about theatre is that every time we get onstage, the show is new," LaChanze says. "We are saying the same words and singing the same songs at every performance, but we approach each performance with different energy. And the audience has an energy too. I think a lot of audience members don't realize the part that they play in live theatre. The audience actually has a mood. Sometimes they're tired and bored, and we have to wake them up and engage them. Sometimes they've had a few drinks and they're silly and laughing at every little thing, and we can't calm them down. And sometimes they're very emotional and focused and easily moved and ready to take everything in. It's interesting how there's a spiritual energy that the audience takes on, and they become a part of the play. And that helps to keep it fresh for us."
LaChanze and the other original cast members will leave the show when the West Coast swing concludes in Costa Mesa Jan. 24, 2016. After that, she plans to tour her acclaimed, highly personal concert, "Feeling Good." "I have a very interesting story to tell, and people always want to hear about it," she says. "They know I'm a 9/11 widow, and I always get comments on that, and being an actor, and raising my daughters by myself. In addition to that, I'm from a small, rural town in the south. I basically came from nothing and turned my life into something. People are inspired. So I wanted to talk about all of this onstage, and I'm excited to do it. It's not an autobiographical, sequential evening, but through music I get to share a little bit of my life and take people on the journey."