Mirvish’s musical If/Then explores life’s ‘what ifs’ at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto
Exploring all those ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ moments, If/Then, the latest modern musical presented by Mirvish Productions, takes the stage at the Princess of Wales Theatre. It’s a fun, hip, funny and lively show that’ll entertain and indulge the rom com enthusiasts in all of us.
In If/Then, Jackie Burns plays Elizabeth, a determined new city planner with a history of poor life choices she’s desperate to walk away from. While at the park, she encounters her two friends Lucas (Anthony Rapp) and Kate (Tamyra Gray). Lucas is a bleeding heart activist protesting zoning and gentrification and is determined that Elizabeth, whom he calls Beth, should be using her powers as a city planner to aid his agenda. He wants her to join him at a protest where gas masks may be necessary. Kate simply wants Elizabeth, whom she calls Liz, to go out, let loose, have fun and check out a local musician do his thing.
From this point, the show splits into different concurrent realities, one for Liz and one for Beth and what would happen if Elizabeth follows either of her friends. In one reality, Liz has a fateful encounter with the sexy and mysterious soldier, Josh (Matthew Hydzik); in another, Lucas confesses his feelings for Beth.
In many ways, the plot sounds like the perfect formula for a sitcom, and watching If/Then feels like an episode of Friends or Will & Grace with similar punchlines aimed at sex, awkward moments, relationships, parenting, and communication.
The highlights of this show exist in the physical elements, and director Michael Greif has outdone himself putting all the elements together. The revolving set — in both the stage and the set pieces — create a visual masterpiece, and designer Mark Wendland has done a tremendous job. I also loved the bright and sumptuous projections by Peter Nigrini used throughout paired with the New York City street maps to show where the action was taking place–very apropos for a city planner.
The performances are also remarkable. Burns’ voice is strong and powerful as she effortlessly delivered her songs with fervor. There are times when it seems as though Burns is shouting her lyrics, but I didn’t find that it detracted from the moment. People are most familiar with Rapp from his portrayal of Mark from the original production, and movie version, of RENT. Seeing him on stage is a delight and he does deliver a fine performance, however I found his character of Lucas very similar to that of Mark.
Generally speaking, If/Then is a lot of fun to watch, but the disconnect that I and my guest found was the overlapping story lines make for a very convoluted and confusing experience, where a poignant and moving moment that the audience just witnessed hasn’t actually happened within the next beat as the secondary timeline takes over. Often times I found myself having trouble keeping pace with which scene fell into which timeline, Liz or Beth’s.
I also found that the music, though fun, isn’t very memorable. Many of the songs, in particular within the first 20 minutes of the show, sounded very similar and blended together easily. The themes felt a bit contrite, in particular the song “It’s a Sign” performed on the train exploring what small things in life are actually signs from fate. The music did pick up as the show progressed, in particular with the song “What the Fuck,” not just due to the boldness of the title, but for that particular moment of morning-after realization.
If/Then is a lot of fun, and that’s the best way I can describe it. It sits on the longer side at over two hours and I did feel that certain points rambled on, but that aside, I did enjoy the show and my time spent there. It won’t go down as one of my favorite musicals and it won’t be one I’ll particularly want to see multiple times, but it will definitely make for a lively night out.
- If/Then is playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King St W) until May 8, 2016.
- Performances run Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm with matinee performances Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm.
- Ticket prices range from $35-$130, see website for details.
- Tickets can be purchased online or by calling (416) 872 1212.
- Performance runs 2 hours 40 minutes, including intermission.
- Audience advisory: Performance contains strobe lights, mature language and adult themes, recommended for ages 12 and above.
Photo of Jackie Burns and Matthew Hydzik by Joan Marcus