Broadway powerhouse Idina Menzel is famous for originating the starring role of the hit musical Wicked and for lending her voice to Disney’s Frozen. Given the massive popularity of these two cultural juggernauts, many had high expectations for her first return to the stage, as the main character in the original musical If/Then. The show premiered this spring and its soundtrack was released nationwide on June 3rd.
The soundtrack is the product of another collaboration by composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey, well known for writing the Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning rock musical Next to Normal, which explores the life of a bipolar woman whose mental illness is destroying her family. While the Next to Normal soundtrack surged with energy and emotion, If/Then falls flat, bogged down in a sentimental orchestral style and meandering melodies.
Menzel’s stars as Elizabeth, a 40-year-old woman working to rebuild her life in New York City. In one moment, she can make a decision that will lead to two entirely different lives. The musical follows the outcome of either choice.
Menzel’s soaring vocal chops are clearly underused in the score, as most of her songs lack any depth or need for skill. The opening song (“What If?”) overwhelms Menzel in unnecessary background vocals, while the supposedly show stopping closer, “Always Starting Over,” is uninspiring and forgettable.
The soundtrack also wastes the vocal talent of Anthony Rapp, well known for starring as Mark in the original Broadway cast and film versions of RENT. Playing the gay best friend of Elizabeth, he lacks the raw anger and emotion so apparent in his role in RENT. However, his solo in the jazzy “Ain’t No Man Manhattan” is one of the few memorable moments in the soundtrack. LaChanze of The Color Purple also appears as the lesbian Kindegarten teacher Kate. Her powerful and soulful voice feels out of place and startling in comparison to the music.
The If/Then soundtrack lacks nearly all the elements that made Kitt and Yorkey’s Next to Normal so electrifying. Overall, it wastes the valuable skills of an incredibly talented cast.