Idina Menzel has been enjoying the after-effects of a viral moment in the 21st Century. Ever since John Travolta botched her name while introducing her at the Oscars, she’s been everywhere. It helps that Frozen, the animated movie she lends her voice to, is also riding a wave of positive news, having just become the highest-earning animated film of all time (knocking off Toy Story 3 from the top spot). For fans of Wicked and Rent, Idina Menzel has been a name long revered, synonymous with agile vocal ability (the kind you want to try emulate in the shower, but can never, ever achieve) and theatrical dreams. Her recurring role on Glee helped increase her exposure, beyond the theatre world, and she’s gaining even more attention now – especially with Let It Go and the Frozen soundtrack sitting pretty atop the Billboard charts.
In the midst of this new-found attention, Idina has just started a run of the new Broadway show, If/Then. The production has received mixed reviews – the likes of The Hollywood Reporter believe the it wouldn’t be worth staging without Idina, while Vulture.com says it’s an apt take on the choices presented by living in a modern city.
In the play, Idina plays a 38-year-old woman who has just moved back to New York, after giving up her dreams of being a city planner and living with her husband in Phoenix for 12 years. As has been said by many reviewing the show, there is a close resemblance to the movie Sliding Doors, in which her character plays out two different paths of her life, based on the decisions she makes. Only in this version, the actress uses glasses and a name change to signify the difference instead of changing hair colour.
It takes a while to get into, and the first half can get a little confusing trying to keep up with her character, Elizabeth, who becomes “Beth” or “Liz” based up the two sets of decisions. But the second half does better, leading into some really poignant moments. If you’ve ever felt the impact of a decision that caused you pain (and who hasn’t, really?), I defy (*insert lame joke drum sound here*) you not to choke up during Idina’s Learn to Live Without song. She holds back until her final number, during which one can only marvel at the talent she has to command all that emotion within her voice. It makes me wonder how on earth she manages to do it twice a day, as Broadway requires.
While the show does hinge on Idina, the actress Rhonda LaChanze Sapp, known as LaChanze, who won the Tony for her role in The Color Purple, deserves mention too, for she is a delight. Overall, while there are a few things that irritated me about the production – a few of the songs really don’t feel like they warrant being musical numbers all on their own – the set design at times is great, especially when creating the city night sky and the subway map. The mirrored ceiling, reflecting the actions and introspection that goes on onstage, is an inspired move.
If/Then is currently showing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.