Theatrical: If/Then review

Powerhouse vocals distinguish the very welcome season of 2014 Broadway musical If/Then, neatly produced by burgeoning local company Theatrical.

Leave it to community theatre to present intriguing content that commercial producers are too fearful to try. If/Then follows Theatrical’s 2021 season of Little Women, with Freaky Friday advertised for September this year. The company could have taken the safer route with the umpteenth version of Rent, but artists and audiences are both the richer for such venturesome choices.

A very healthy sign that theatre is well on the way to a rosy recovery, the community theatre season of If/Then precedes an independent production of Next to Normal, incidentally, and quite charmingly, creating an unofficial mini-festival of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey musicals at Chapel off Chapel. The love for the pair is set to continue with Freaky Friday.

A contemporary Sliding Doors-style musical, If/Then follows late-30s city planner Elizabeth in her return to New York where she follows two divergent pathways of love, career, family and friendship. “Liz” follows new friend Kate and finds love before landing a break in her career, while “Beth” answers the call to kickstart her career and struggles to find a romantic relationship.

The cohesive design aids audience understanding by associating glasses-wearing Liz with crimson, as seen in her jackets and the overhead lighting, while glasses-free Beth is linked in the same way with blue. 

Although key events come to differentiate the two threads, the two incarnations of Liz/Beth, and indeed of all her friends, are not different enough to create a significant degree of variety in the storytelling. Director Liam Charleston successfully focuses on keeping cast energy high and developing genuine warmth with the quirky family of characters. 

Blessed with a cast of singers who share a talent for belting, musical director Vicki Quinn presents a terrific performance of Kitt’s music. The very generously sized orchestra of 13 musicians may eat into available stage space, but the score is heard at its very best. 

If there is a somewhat incongruous element in the creative process, it is the choreography of Taylah Trew. The cast is certainly well drilled but the moves appear unnatural for the characters and situations. Nonetheless, the moments of dance are part of the palpable stage energy.

The cast is anchored by leading lady Stacey-Louise Camilleri, filling very big shoes in that If/Then was a star vehicle (remember them?) for Idina Menzel. A remarkable and dedicated performer, Camilleri really gives her all, her performance bringing to mind the description that she “leaves herself on the stage.” She gives and gives until she cannot have any more to give; this generosity imprints on audience hearts and minds, deepening the impact of Elizabeth’s highs and lows and creating a memorable evening in the theatre.

As each character has their Great. Big. Ballad., it becomes clear that Camilleri is not alone in her impactful vocal delivery. 

Jade Bohni exudes delightful warmth as lesbian neighbour Kate. Michael Gray brings a gentle edge to returned serviceman Josh, underscoring his pristine vocals with heartfelt longing. Charismatic performer Rory Maher captures the freewheeling vibe of Lucas, enjoying chemistry with each of his partners.

Supporting roles are also well cast. Omar Moustafa brings credible authority to developer and potential romantic partner Stephen. Romy McIllroy is amusingly effervescent as Kate’s flirtatious partner Anne. Pasquale Bartalotta brings sincerity and maturity to successful surgeon David, who makes a very good boyfriend for Lucas. Ag Johnson shows sweet poise and grace as Elena, rising assistant to Beth.

Three hard working ensemble members round out the cast, each singing and dancing with great flair as well as having a number of cameo moments in the spotlight: Benjamin Lee, Daisy McCormick, Tach Sutton.

Adventurous fans of musical theatre who clamour for new material are encouraged to take the chance to see Theatrical’s production of If/Then

If/Then plays at Chapel off Chapel, Melbourne until 11 March 2022. To buy tickets, click here

Man in Chair reviewed If/Then on Broadway.

Photos: Ben Fon

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