Do you ever find yourself wondering what might have been? Is your destiny bound by fate, or are your daily decisions constantly creating potential new outcomes for your future? Tuesday night’s opening of If/Then, which runs through Memorial Day weekend at the Durham Performing Arts Center left me pondering these very questions. Based on a book by Brian Yorkey, this original Broadway musical follows two possible life paths of Elizabeth (played by the fantastic Jackie Burns), a thirty-something urban planner who has relocated to New York City for a fresh start after a failed marriage and dead end job in Phoenix.
The show explores how sometimes even seemingly minor decisions can have ripple effects taking your life into different possible directions. In the opening scene Elizabeth’s choices in the span of just 30 seconds set two possible futures into motion. Does she answer a call from an unknown number and land her dream job as director of city planning or let it go to voicemail and instead become a teacher? Does she go with her friend Kate (Tamyra Gray) to listen to music in the park, which leads to a chance encounter with Josh (Matthew Hydzik) her future husband and father of her children, or does she go with her old college friend Lucas (Anthony Rapp) to attend a protest and remain single?
Every choice has a consequence and If/Then takes the audience down that road of what might have been. You might think it would be confusing to follow, but the producers use little tricks like having Elizabeth adopt two different nicknames ‘Beth/Liz’ or having her character wear glasses in one potential future to help distinguish the alternate timelines. Jackie Burns strong singing voice and acting are well suited for in the center role and she handles it masterfully. My favorite number of the night was the funny “What the Fuck” when Elizabeth is struggling with her indecision over whether or not to have a one night stand. While there are plenty of funnier moments like this one, the show has its fair share of songs rife with tension and regret about chances not taken like the somber “You learn to Live Without”.
I think the most impressive aspect of If/Then is the sheer number of musical numbers performed. With 22 songs there is a lot of singing squeezed into two acts. Fortunately the show has strong cast that is up to the task of delivering impressive vocals. The set design is also top notch. While the setting of New York City isn’t really integral to the story it makes for the perfect backdrop offering life changing decisions around every corner. The sets are smartly done and did a wonderful job of capturing the city environment from riding the subway to watching a game at Yankee stadium.
Local theater fans take note. Make sure you keep an eye out for North Carolina Native English Bernhardt on stage. She grew up right here in Raleigh and returns to DPAC playing supporting cast member Paulette in her first national tour debut.
If/Then isn’t about telling a story of Elizabeth so much as it telling the story of the road not traveled. It is a good reminder that we shape our futures with seemingly random choices. I enjoyed this performance and think you will too. If you don’t go, then you’ll never know what might have been.
If/Then continues through May 29th at the Durham Performing Arts Center. For more information and to order tickets visit http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/ifthen.