It’s all about the women in Lyric Arts’ “If/Then.”
That’s true of the female characters, who are significantly more compelling than the guys in the contemporary musical. And it’s true of the female actors, who do not have the pitch issues of their male counterparts.
Kate Beahen is unwaveringly terrific in the dual role that drives the “Sliding Doors”-esque show. She’s two halves of urban planner Elizabeth, who splinters into a pair of possible life scenarios as the musical opens: In one version, she’s Liz, who meets a guy, gets married, raises a family and learns hard-won lessons. In the other, she’s Beth, who stumbles into a couple of questionable relationships while becoming a big wheel in civic administration, wondering what’s missing in her life and learning hard-won lessons.
Likable, direct and sharp without ever being mean, Beahen shifts effortlessly between the two halves of Elizabeth. Her clear, powerful voice makes it evident Elizabeth is not a flibbertigibbet who can’t decide which road to take but a modern person who is confident her choices will determine her future and who wants to make the right ones. As funny and assured as Beahen is in her big scenes, it’s also a pleasure to watch her in the few moments when one of her personae isn’t center stage because her reactions to the other characters are so beautifully calibrated.
Beahen is particularly engaging when she’s paired with Elinor Strandskov as Kate, Elizabeth’s pal. Kate is your basic Comic Best Buddy role (almost all of the people in the show are more archetypes than characters). But Strandskov makes the part her own with quick wit and brassy, belty singing. As Kate’s girlfriend, Jacleen Olson is also lively and sure of voice. Same with Carl Swanson, who is very funny even if his character, another Comic Best Buddy, is a puzzle.
A lot of things happen in the overstuffed second act — if it isn’t a rule that each musical is entitled to only one catastrophic event, then it should be — and the Anoka company’s production has difficulty keeping track (to be fair, so did the original production).
Colored lights are meant to help us identify which story line we’re in — blue for Liz, red for Beth — but frequently the lights were not visible from my seat and, since both Elizabeths can pop up within the same musical number, it gets confusing. It also doesn’t help that the songs all have the same blandly poppy sound; maybe if Liz were a little bit country and Beth were a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, it would help us keep them straight?
Director Elena Giannetti worked with a variety of skill levels in her cast, but she keeps the show moving briskly and makes smart use of Lyric Arts’ intimate space, even inviting us onto the Manhattan set to buy ice cream sandwiches before the show.
I’m not convinced “If/Then” has anything new to say about fate vs. chance, but Giannetti makes sure the actors find revealing and truthful moments along the way.