GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Famous baseball manager Yogi Berra is said to have said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
And so there is the musical “If/Then.”
The catalyst character, Elizabeth, is Liz on one fork and Beth on another fork.
The story is theatrical – a what-if exercise.
It oozes New York City/urban sensibility – dynamic, challenging complexity… and F-bombs.
Songs of Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt tend to be energized bolts of self-examination, exploration and mind loop-to-looping.
What happens to the Liz persona and the Beth persona happens in an interlocking flow of scenes.
The production by University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Theatre & Dance and Music looks and feels large.
A key visual element is an array of sheets of cloth that ripple in the breeze as multi-colored artistic or photographic images are projected on them. A collage of colors may transform into the action of a subway ride or a panorama of the New York City skyline… and much more, all the time.
The players are impressively committed to this living maze in University Theatre.
Sound balance between the strong pit orchestra and singing was off at the start, and the players seemed a bit timid in their tasks at first on opening night Thursday. But the sound balance soon was fixed, and rhythm in performance arrived.
Director Thomas Campbell, musical director Benjamin Olejniczak and their artistic collaborators fashion a strong university endeavor.
Elizabeth is a voyage of discovery for the audience. It’s a major-challenge role for Jasmine Christyne – the dualism of her Liz/Beth, the differences, the what’s and if’s of a career-minded woman who’s off time is laced with possibilities with men. She builds this city on rock and roll in relationships. Jasmine Christyne often sings earnestly as her acting propels a Type A person with heart.
Key people around Elizabeth – also strong in portrayals are these:
+ Forever friend and sometimes lover Lucas (Chase Grabowski) from Beth’s path in life. Lucas’s bi-sexually provides a strong undercurrent in the story. The Beth/Jasmine Christyne-Lucas/Chase Grabowski song “Some Other Me” is prime property in musicality/intellect.
+ Forever friend Kate (Audrey Soberg) from Liz’s path in life. Early on, in “It’s a Sign” Audrey Soberg grabs hold of Kate’s sparkplug approach to living. Kate being gay adds another strong undercurrent.
+ Newfound attraction Josh (Mickey Wirtz) from Liz’s yearnings. An Army doctor just back from action, Josh appeals to the soul-mate yearnings of Liz. Warmth is around when Mickey Wirtz is around.
+ Work compatriot/city builder Stephen (Blake Larson) from Liz’s side. Yes, another man – married too boot – with temptations for Liz. Blake Larson maneuvers that tightrope in character demeanor.
Elizabeth has a line about her relationships: “Will my trail of mistakes never end?”
Important happenings abound. This show is gripping, as in such songs as “I Hate You” and “The Moment Explodes.”
Joy? Yes. That happens when David (Mason Amidon), Lucas’s husband, radiantly expresses affection in “What Would You Do.”
In the corps, players perform multiple roles from city life and in the second act especially click in song-dance energy.
“If/Then” certainly is a New York state of mind. The authors add insults to other parts of America – a New York thing to do – like off-handedly dissing Nebraska and Phoenix, just because they feel they can. Boo to that. Yea to the depth and daring of so much else in this microcosm of a woman aching to live life to the fullest.
Running time: Two hours, 42 minutes
Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18-19
Creative: Book and lyrics – Brian Yorkey; music – Tom Kitt; director – Thomas Campbell; musical director – Benjamin Olejniczak; choreographer – Denise Carlson-Gardner; scenic designer – Sera Shearer; costume designer – Kaoime E. Malloy; lighting designer – Dinesh Yadav; sound designer – Tera Woolley; live sound mix – Tera Woolley; hair/make-up designer Sera Shearer; technical director – Dinesh Yadav; intimacy director – Alan Kopischke; assistant technical director – David Cook; stage manager – Ally Swigert; assistant stage manager – Autumn Johnson
Elizabeth – Jasmine Christyne
Lucas – Chase Grabowski
Kate – Audrey Soberg
Josh – Mickey Wirtz
Anne – Jenny Witt
Stephen – Blake Larson
David – Mason Amidon
Elena – Olivia Zwerlein
Ensemble – Ava Brewer, Ben Hansen, Sam Lownik, Alyssa Mocadlo, Alexandra Smith, Olivia Smith, Aubrey Stein, Ty Witthuhn
Orchestra: Benjamin Olejniczak (conductor), Adam Gaines (orchestra director), Danielle Wolf (reed 1/flute), Mad Bjorkman (reed1/clarinet), Sam Stranz (reed 2), Aliya Hammer (trumpet), Tili Moua (violin 1), Jessica Tec Cob (violin 2), Jonathan Rodriguiez-Salgado (viola), Ella VanLoon (cello), Daniel Stary (guitar 1), Madeline Daniels (guitar 2), Emily Sculliuffo (keyboard 1), Beth Schulz (keyboard 2), Cory Aldrich (bass), Kendall Salter (drums), Maddie Moreau (percussion)
“Prologue / What If?” – Elizabeth, Ensemble
“It’s a Sign” – Kate
“A Map of New York” – Stephen, Liz, Ensemble
“You Never Know” – Josh
“Ain’t No Man Manhattan” – Lucas, Ensemble
“What The F***?” – Liz/Beth
“Here I Go” – Liz, Josh
“You Don’t Need to Love Me” – Lucas
“No More Wasted Time” – Kate, Anne
“Surprise” – All
“This Day / Walking by a Wedding” – Beth, Ensemble
“Hey Kid” – Josh
“Some Other Me” – Beth, Lucas
“Best Worst Mistake You Ever Made” – David, Lucas
“I Hate You” – Liz
“A Map of New York” (Reprise) – Ensemble
“You Learn to Live Without” – Beth/Liz
“The Moment Explodes” – Ensemble
“Love While You Can” – Beth/Liz
“What Would You Do?” – David
“Always Starting Over” – Liz/Beth
“Finale / What If?” (Reprise) – Elizabeth, Ensemble
THE VENUE: Of 1970s vintage, the 450-seat University Theatre is a complex facility inside Theatre Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The theater features a proscenium (flat front) stage that’s 50 feet across and 23 feet high. The seats are a calm shade of red fabric, black plastic backs and light brown arms. The concrete walls gray and slightly angled. The ceiling is a semi-dark green/blue for the coverings ventilating/electrical equipment. Concrete dominates the room – the floor, the walls, the stairs. Aisle carpeting is a flecked gray. The seating area in front of the stage is adjustable to accommodate an orchestra pit when needed. The theater includes two seating areas – a lower one 20 or so feet deep on a slight incline that reaches a poured concrete wall and the upper one above that “moat” that rises sharply and creates an amphitheater effect. The theater may be entered from the lower or upper level.