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"If/Then" presents complex, poignant message at The Fisher

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Towards the end of "If/Then," Jackie Burns' Elizabeth Vaughan says that "You have one life, and you let the rest go."

Not so for Vaughan and the other characters in the Tony Award-nominated musical that's playing through April 10 at Detroit's Fisher Theatre.

As the title implies, "If/Then" is all about the "What ifs?" in life, illustrated via a complex, cleverly executed story by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt that tracks Vaughan through two potential life paths -- one as Beth, professionally successful but personally bereft, the other as the more fulfilled but equally restless Liz, who experiences both true love and tragedy.

It's a lengthy and profound two-act essay on how even split-second choices can dramatically steer our lives, and how even at the best of times human nature leaves you wondering about the path not taken. It asks big questions but doesn't necessarily answer them, although it leaves us with the somewhat hopeful nation that it's something everybody goes through, to varying degrees.

It's also a production that requires the audience to pay close attention as it toggles between the Liz and Beth stories at a sharp, fluid pace, with details and hints of foreshadowing flying by as the key characters -- Burns' Vaughan and best friends Lucas (Anthony Rapp, who originated the role) and Kate (a vivacious Tamyra Gray) -- nimbly hop between their different life circumstances and disparate plot lines as they deliver Yorkey's hip, urbane dialogue with its hints of yuppie/Gen X disaffection.

Burns, a veteran of "Wicked," "Hair" and "Rock of Ages," nails the Vaughan role created by Idina Menzel, finding in her a central core that underlines the sameness but also accents the crucial differences between the directions she chooses as Liz and Beth. She has the big, commanding voice the part requires -- especially for the late Act Two showpiece "Always Starting Over" -- but she conveys vulnerability, too, modulating between blustering confidence and insecure neuroses with subtle vocal inflections and facial expressions.

Rapp and Matthew Hyzdzik, as Liz's soldier/physician paramour Josh, play their parts with careful but appropriate understatement, giving Burns a firm foundation from which to build her characters' arcs. And the staging, including a rotating turntable and a steel bridge that occasional hovers above the stage, goes a long way in making the dual stories easier to follow.

And while "If/Then's" songs are intensely show-specific and don't boast anything of the hit potential of "Seasons of Love" or "Defying Gravity," there are certainly a few standouts, including the scene-setting "A Map of New York," "No More Wasted Time," "You Learn to LIve Without" and "Love While You Can." They contribute to a unique kind of energy and flow that makes "If/Then" both challenging and rewarding -- if occasionally convoluted -- a modern musical about contemporary challenges that ultimately rings true.

"If/Then: A New Musical"

Through April 10.

The Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit.

Tickets are $35-$125.

Call 313-872-1000 or visit broadwayindetroit.com.

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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