By Deborah Flomberg.
Idina Menzel is probably one of the biggest names on Broadway today, thanks to the chart-topping soundtrack from Disney’s hit “Frozen” (as well as the unfortunate pronunciation of her name by John Travolta at the Academy Awards.) Her talent is as undeniable as her voice is mesmerizing, proven by her previous Tony win as Elphaba in 2004’s “Wicked” and her nomination for 1996’s Rent. Menzel has been seen off the stage as well, having made appearances in the television series “Glee” and Disney’s “Enchanted” as well as “Frozen.” Her latest role on the Great White Way is the role of Elizabeth in the new musical “If/Then” and it’s a brilliant and powerful performance that truly highlights just why Menzel’s star shines so brightly.
“If/Then” is a remarkable musical for several reasons. The show, written by the powerhouse team of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, the men behind the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Drama “Next to Normal,” is also one of the few new musicals not based on previously written material. “If/Then” tells the story of a 39-year-old woman (Menzel) who moves to New York City for a new start. When her new life doesn’t go as planned the story splits into two parallel paths, following two different stories at the same time as the woman faces important decisions about her choices and her destiny. It’s a clever concept for a show, but one made all the more brilliant thanks to the powerhouse team supporting the production.
It’s also a chance for Menzel to truly sparkle through her many power ballads, leaving her fans begging for more. Critics have universally loved Menzel’s performance, even if they didn’t love the show itself quite as much. The Washington Post called Menzel “an earthy star with heavenly pipes” while The New York Times applauded her intensity and commitment to the role, and the many theater fans that have been lucky enough to score tickets to this uniquely modern musical have fallen in love with Menzel once again.
It may be the brilliantly written music, it could be the magical and dream-like quality of the production, or it could be due to the stunning performances of Menzel and her fellow co-star Anthony Rapp, but “If/Then” is one of the first original musicals to perform well at the box office on Broadway in a long time. Most original musicals these days close after a month or so, with audiences favoring familiar material and well-known story-lines. However, the success of “If/Then” could mark a turning point on Broadway, one that encourages writers to dig deep once again to bring fresh, new and poignant material to the stage.
In a day where big Broadway stars are often tempted to leave the stage in search of the screen, a Tony award for the amazing Menzel would also show just how valuable her talent really is. Factor in the heartfelt performance that Menzel brings to the stage in “If/Then” and she is a clear front-runner for the Tony in 2014, despite being in a category with some of the most amazing talents on the stage today. And what a category it is. Menzel is up against Mary Bridget Davies for “A Night with Janis Joplin,” the legendary Sutton Foster is up for her role in “Violet,” Jessie Mueller is nominated for her brilliant performance in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” and Kelli O’Hara rounds out the nominees for “The Bridges of Madison County.”
Clearly, Menzel is in good company with this nomination, and truly any of these tremendous women could take home the coveted statue on the big night. However, Menzel’s commitment to “If/Then,” her stunning performance and her heavenly pipes make this talented actress the frontrunner when the awards are aired live on CBS on June eighth.
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Deborah Flomberg is a theater professional, freelance writer and Denver native. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.