I read in a New York Times piece about the pros and cons of Broadway previews that reviewers should withhold judgment until the true opening night. So much can change between the first night of previews and the first “real” performance of the show’s run. Some people take the near-guarantee of tweaks and changes as a reason not to see a show in previews — you’ll only want to see it again after it’s been frozen (no, not this Frozen) for opening night, to make sure you got the full experience. And who has the money for seeing a show twice? Honestly, I hardly have the money for seeing a show once.
But I’m still a huge supporter of attending previews, particularly the very first night. I can’t pretend to know how the cast feels, but from this audience member’s perspective, it feels like you’re all in it together, like you’re involved in the show’s process in a very real way, like you want everyone to succeed just as much as they do. It feels like you’re a part of the show’s history. The energy in a theater during previews is kinetic. I felt it when I saw opening night of previews for Singing in the Rain in London, and I felt it again on opening night of previews for Cinderella on Broadway.
That energy is amplified to some ridiculous power when the musical’s leading lady a) performed just days ago at the Oscars, b) has been all over social media lately, and c) is a Tony award-winning actress returning to the Broadway stage after nearly a decade. This is all to say, I couldn’t help myself buying a ticket to see the first night of previews for If/Then the Musical. And when I see a great show — cast, crew, and Emily Posts of theatre etiquette forgive me — I have to write about it, opening night of previews or not. I’ll try to be vague.
“If/Then” is something special, and I would definitely recommend seeing it. The cast is amazing: The applause Idina Menzel received after her sudden entrance was well earned. (The cheering went on for minutes, no exaggeration. Her opening line of “Hey, it’s me” was all too appropriate and apparent.) Anthony Rapp’s voice transports me back instantly to listening to the “Rent” soundtrack, and his character was like a perfect Mark Cohen in ten years (and in a parallel universe, maybe). And LaChanze, James Snyder, and Jason Tam — three performers I wasn’t familiar with before tonight — were incredible. Really incredible. The chorus members are also talented, and so versatile. As my friend rightly pointed out, there wasn’t one sour note. Beautiful staging and choreography.
When the show was on in Washington, DC, I read reviews that said the plot was too confusing, and difficult to follow. The Washington Post even called it a “winning blob, with many kinks to be worked out.” Both my friend and I had no trouble following the intersecting storylines at tonight’s performance; I’d be curious to know what “kinks” have been worked out, because the entire show seemed seamless.
I have a few qualms with the overall plot and how much exposition was given so quickly in the opening song — probably one of the “kinks” that was worked out, based on this New York Times article where the lead producer is quoted as saying that the first 20-25 minutes is where they think people suffered plot confusion in the DC tryout. I also feel strongly about one major event that takes place in the second act. But I’m not one for spoilers, and my concerns aren’t enough to prevent me from forcing all my friends and loved ones to go see the show. I mean, Idina Menzel sings this. Listen to it and tell me you don’t feel completely heart-bombed afterward. Go on. I’ll wait.
Actually, I won’t. For this tired theatre-goer, it’s time for bed. But if you see the show, if you want to see the show, or and especially if you saw the DC tryout and the Broadway run and can comment on the changes, then leave your thoughts in the comments. Until then, goodnight!