Though I doubt that many people devote much thought to “the road not taken,” artists seem to like exploring the subject. What if you chose X instead of Y, what if you met A instead of B, etc. You could have a completely different life from the one you have been living.
That’s basically the premise behind the musical “If/Then” currently playing at the Public Theater of San Antonio through April 8.
Written by Brian Yorkey, with music by Tom Kitt, the show, which opened on Broadway in 2014, received very mixed reviews from a number of reviewers. The Public’s production is visually appealing and well executed but there are indeed inherent weaknesses in the material itself and the show is way too long, especially the first act.
In the opening scene we are introduced to the main character, Elizabeth, a divorced 38-year-old professor of urban planning, who has just returned to New York – where else!? – to build a new life for herself. Soon after, we see her going through two different sequences of events, representing two different life paths. In one of the lives she is Liz and wears glasses; in the other she is Beth who doesn’t need glasses. Since the same actress is playing both (Stephanie Genito), the glasses help us differentiate between the two.
There is nothing unusual about either of her life stories. As Liz she meets and marries a handsome Army doctor, has children and a happy home life, plus a teaching job. As Beth, she remains single and pursues a successful career as an actual urban planner. Both Liz and Beth have friends, both experience moments of doubts and accept compromises, and they both eventually go through a pivotal time of insight and change – all of it presented against a fast-paced contemporary urban background, with lots of singing.
Under the musical direction of Josh Pepper, the entire cast of 15 sounds good though the music, which is enjoyable at first, eventually becomes repetitive, causing the numbers to sort of blend together, with very few standouts. Maybe the composer saw the score as a unifying thread meandering through the quick-shifting, episodic presentation of the stories. The main character gets only one chance to deliver an effective solo in Act II, when she finally makes a little deeper connection with the audience. In general, the second act is less hectic and more involving.
Among the men, Grant Bryan as the Army doctor Josh, and Nicholas Ponting as Lucas, Beth’s bisexual friend, also have solo numbers that allow them to shine and get the audience to empathize with them.
Director Molly Cox handles the multiple transitions adroitly, and Ponting, who is also the set designer, has created a handsome and versatile, two-level set to facilitate the flow of the action. He gets lots of able help from lighting designer Dan “Doc” Heggem.
“If/Then” contains several casually delivered put-downs of non-New York America, such as zingers about Phoenix and Nebraska – completely unnecessary.
As the program says “the themes and content” of this show “may not be suitable for all audiences” and, may I add, it’s definitely not for children. ______________________________________________________________________________________For tickets and times go to www.thepublic.org or call 210-733-7258