Filichia Features: IF/THEN – and Now

Filichia Features: IF/THEN – and Now

By Peter Filichia on December 14, 2018

Meet the grandchild of Company.

It's If/Then, the 2014 musical that tells us how New York City life has changed - and has stayed the same - since Stephen Sondheim and George Furth debuted their instant classic in 1970.

If your audiences enjoyed Company, they'll take to this musical by composer Tom Kitt and librettist-lyricist Brian Yorkey -- one of only three songwriting teams to win a Pulitzer Prize and a Best Score Tony for the same show: Next to Normal.

Company has often been called "an urban musical." If/Then is, too - and even centers on urban planner Beth Vaughn who's also Liz Vaughn.

Confused? That's the fun of the show. One actress - originally Idina Menzel - plays both roles. Because Liz wears glasses instead of the contact lenses that Beth endures, you can tell who's who. Yorkey uses mnemonic devices to help us remember that Beth will be the Businesswoman and Liz the Lover.

Beth/Liz, like Follies' Sally Durant, moved from New York to Phoenix because of her husband's job. The city didn't make her rise like a phoenix, so she's now left it and her 12-year marriage. She'll start the life and career she believes she should have had "in the city that moves me."

If/Then answers a question found in another Sondheim masterpiece: Follies' "The Road You Didn't Take." Here we won't wonder whether the path Beth/Liz chose was the right one; Yorkey gives each character an alternative universe that reveals each woman's fate.

Beth/Liz first worries that she's "flirting with forty." Age, as we all know, is the one thing you flirt with that always responds. So Beth/Liz dreads her thirtysomething birthday party as Company's Bobby does.

If/Then reminds us that many more occupations and opportunities are now open to women. Furth made April a flight attendant; Beth/Liz is actually Dr. Vaughn, thanks to that Ph.D. in urban planning. "I want to make a city where lives happen and intersect," says Beth at her interview. She gets the job; Liz doesn't.

Many a New York man is judged guilty by many a New York woman before he can prove himself to be something other than a "two-faced lying freak who will whisper pretty things then leave you flat and steal your cat," as Josh says to Liz in "You Never Know."

Liz too is wary: "Anyone who enters into a romantic relationship thinking it's going to last is uninformed or stupid," she tells him. That's harsher than Bobby would put it, but not far from what he suspects. Liz feels that she and Josh won't have much of a future; she'll be proved right -- but not in the way that she'd anticipated.

Meanwhile Lucas, a lover of yore, prefers the Beth that he knew and loved "four years and nine months ago." His being that specific tells you how much he cares. His "You don't need to love me the way that I love you" is a lyric that could have come from Company. So could this one that Lucas tells his boyfriend David: "It's not that I don't love you, 'cause I don't not love you, and I'd lie to say I'm never sometimes always thinking of you."

(And you thought that Bobby in Company had commitment issues.)

The profound difference between the two musicals is that two of If/Then's couples are gay: Lucas and David; Kate and Anne. For nearly half a century, Company's attendees have debated, insisted or wondered if Bobby's homosexual. Sondheim still insists that he isn't and Furth eventually wrote a new scene to reiterate that Bobby's straight.

While we're on controversial issues, Company has a scene involving drugs while If/Then doesn't. But the newer show is more liberal with profanity; one song has "the f-word" in its title and uses it six times. More unnerving to some will be Beth's having an abortion.

Kitt's right-now music serves Yorkey's lyrics extraordinarily well. He gives musical uncertainty in "Some Other Me" in which Beth considers "the moments where the 'what-might-bes' turn into 'might-have-beens.'" There's a grounded quality to "You Never Know" and a plaintive one in "Always Starting Over," Liz's realization that she must choose yet another road.

You may be tempted to cast one actress as Beth and one as Liz, all to lighten the workload. The authors insist that you don't. Besides, at the curtain call, you wouldn't want to deprive one actress from getting three times the amount of applause that two actresses would have received, would you?

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