Idina Menzel is a Broadway star, officially. You can be sure of her status because her name is listed above the title of the show she’s carrying right now at the Civic Theatre for Broadway San Diego.
The show is If/Then, a bantamweight musical by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey that has been produced with skill and grace to make maximum use of Miss Menzel, who is involved (I’m pretty sure) in every song offered over the show’s 160-plus minutes.
Her star status is reinforced also by the reception at her first entrance: Applause and what sounded like pubescent cheers, the result no doubt of her credits, which include the green witch in Wicked and the voice on “Let It Go,” the title song of the Disney film Frozen.
It is indeed a memorable voice, rich with overtones, piercing with irresistible power and nimble in the shaping of long lines so fashionable just now. And Miss Menzel carries off her non-musical duties with equal intensity and presence.
Yorkey’s script is a romantic fantasy set in a vividly impressionistic contemporary Manhattan dream where alternate realities coexist and sometimes even cross the roads not taken.
The star’s character is a barely sub 40ish, discontented wife from Phoenix who has left the boring middle class to try restarting her life as a city planner in the Big Time. She comes superbly equipped with well-placed old friends and ex-lovers all agog at her potential. That’s definitely the way to approach New York City.
The character’s name is Elizabeth and she’s pulled in all directions toward possible new identities. These are summed up in two alter egos – Liz, the fun-seeking pal open to romance, and Beth, the keen professional intrigued by the city’s endless imperial development wars.
So off we go, alternating between the two interchangeable realities with many of the same crowd, even as everybody’s lives move along through changes. If this sounds confusing, it’s much more so in person. At my seat, there was endless argument over whether this is Beth or Liz screwing up at the moment.
One has babies, one has an abortion. One marries an Army doctor, the other keeps getting promoted. One – and I truly am not sure which – becomes a prize-winning professor. That doctor gets killed in Iraq, or does he? He seems to turn up for the finale. And then there’s that air crash that may or may not have really happened and if it didn’t, what about the guy coming on to her aboard the plane…
It might have been easier to sort all this out if the sound amplification had been better, but too often unsung words were squeezed into mush. The feeling persists, though, that there’s not much there to sort out, beyond the questions asked in the title itself. This is a script engineered to offer many a song cue and otherwise kind of stay out of the way.
I could have used some signage (“Liz Now Driving” or such) but the management tries to be more subtle, using lighting and costuming hues – mostly a blue palette for Liz, more oranges for Beth, I think – without much success.
Otherwise, the piece is a visual delight. Augmented by clever projections (credited to Peter Nigrini and Dan Scully), set designer Mark Wendland keeps Manhattan as lively and invigorating as its reality, using bits of furniture, planters on wheels, ladders, railings, moving step units and assort ironwork to weave his spell. Even with the two-color hinting business, lighting designer Kenneth Posner stays fresh and effective and Emily Rebholz’s costuming is a la mode.
The supporting company of 14, often used as stationary profiles amidst the scenery wisps, is largely competent and full of Broadway swagger, many of them fresh from the original New York run. I was delighted to see again the lithe and saucy LaChanze, well remembered from a long-ago bit of Broadway exotica called Once On This Island.
Michael Greif, an old favorite from La Jolla Playhouse days, staged the show with a clear vision of just how much shape all this vagueness needs. The competent industrial choreography is by Larry Keigwin and Carmel Dean conducted a sleek ensemble (three-quarters local, I see) in the sturdy Kitt-Yorkey songs.
Somewhere into the third hour of this show, I found myself pondering the reality that Miss Menzel must recreate this score eight times every week.
But that’s what stars do.
Continues at the Civic Theatre through Jan. 10, 2016. www.broadwaysd.com 619 570-1100