Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington
29/11/2018 - 08/12/2018
What if you wonder?
If/Then is a thought-provoking musical that explores themes of love and loss, told through the intersecting lives of Elizabeth and her friends, old and new.
A tight cast of 16 bring to life the bustling backdrop of New York, a city of infinite possibilities. Newly divorced 38-year-old Elizabeth returns to New York City for a fresh start, where one small choice becomes the proverbial fork in the road as the city planner’s life splits into two parallel paths.
Switching back and forth between the worlds of ‘Liz’ and ‘Beth’, If/Then follows two possible versions of Elizabeth’s life as she faces the consequences of choice and chance.
Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee St, Te Aro, Wellington 6011
29th November – 8 December 2018
BOOK at TICKETBOOTH
* Cassandra Tse – Elizabeth Vaughan
* Michael Stebbings – Lucas
* Caitlin Penrose – Kate
* Ed Blunden – Josh
* Chris McMillan – Stephen
* Catherine Gavigan-Binnie – Anne
* Eugene Wolfin – David
* Renée Iosefa Neil – Elena
Featured Ensemble: Alex Rabina, Helena Savage, Vishan Appanna, Stacey O’Brien, India Loveday, David Bowers-Mason, Daniel Dew, Kirsty Moir
* Director/Set Design – Ellie Stewart
* Music Director – Cameron Stewart
* Choreographer – Katty Lau
* Assistant Director/Publicity Manager – Abigail Helsby
* Assistant Music Director – Anna Rachael McBride
* Stage Manager – Erana McKinlay
* Costume Design – Brendan Goudswaard
* Set Construction Lead – Duncan Garrett
* Lighting Design – Laura Sissons (with assistance from Aaron Blackledge)
* Props Manager – India Loveday
* Poster/Graphic Design – Alex Rabina
* Production Manager/Sound Design – Patrick Barnes
* Producer – Kirsty Moir
* Keyboard 1 – Nick Garrett
* Keyboard 2/Accordion – Katie Morton
* Flute – Mitch McEwan
* Violin – Patrick Barnes
* Cello – Gabrielle Wu
* Flugelhorn/Trumpet – Letita Garrett
* Guitar 1 – Dominic Tomas
* Guitar 2 – Harry Burnard
* Drums/Percussion – Callum Riach
Theatre , Musical ,
Moves and flows, touches and triggers
Review by Jo Hodgson 02nd Dec 2018
How many times have you stood at a crossroads and debated which way to turn, or agonised over the pros and cons of the possibilities in front of you, chosen a path and then been filled with “but what if…?”
If so, then you will relate to this musical premiere of If/Then, written by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey and presented by Wellington Footlights.
City Planner Elizabeth Vaughan is starting life over in New York City, the City of Dreams and infinite possibility. Her plans and aspirations meet fate, choice and chance and we are propelled into two story paths starring Liz and Beth – both played brilliantly and with exceptional vocals by Cassandra Tse.
So this could be very confusing to stage, but director Ellie Stewart manages it on an inspired set using an elongated Gryphon stage with two large static back wall panels with detailed and inter-changeable window frames. ‘Rooftop’ access also helps to layer the visual dimension and with added furnishings, we can be taken from indoors to outdoors, construction site, or to transportation with fairly seamless transitioning.
To differentiate between Liz/Beth, the only costuming alteration is a pair of glasses. The reliance for clarity rests solely on clear diction and the interactions between the characters and traveling their own dual journeys with clear purpose and emotional contrast. This is most certainly achieved.
The two scenarios to set the story are …
‘Liz’: ignores a phone call and follows her gregarious and extremely optimistic friend Kate (owned with sass and soul by Caitlin Penrose) to listen to music in the park where she meets a rather forward army doctor, Josh (sung with sensitivity and vocal beauty by Ed Blunden). Initially brushing him off, they later meet in the subway causing Kate to very publicly announce that ‘It’s a Sign’.
‘Beth’: ‘bumps’ Kate and instead agrees to meet her activist friend Lucas (a suitably dishevelled Michael Stebbings) at a protest, takes the phone call, which is from power driven Stephen (Chris McMillan), an old grad school friend, leading her to a job offer at the Dept of City Planning.
This story takes on the familiar conflict for women – career versus having children or not (or juggling both), how to meet the ‘perfect’ man, societal pressures and accepted or expected norms. Having been first performed in 2014, it also has a modern and inclusive outlook on relationship and gender choices within this more stereotypical premise.
But it also looks at how everything is connected and living the life you have. In today’s technically accessible world, there is a lot of FOMO (fear of missing out), and it can seem more challenging to follow and find your own true path without giving way to the cacophony of external interference or influence.
This story pivots around Liz/Beth, but the supporting characters (all played with great depth and pathos) are substantial in their inter-play, adding breadth to her parallel paths. However this does create a rather long show which probably could afford to be trimmed by the original creators – but we are carried along by the intrigue and arc of the ride and solid performances from this talented local cast. The clever weaving and intertwining of the stories and ultimate ending still has me reflecting a day or so later.
While there is a varying mix of strengths within the vocals, the ensemble sound and delivery is focussed and tight. The advantage of an auditioned troupe of performers, who work together often, shows in the easy-going feel of the characters playing together and the interactions which are bedded in.
The background ‘noise’ of each location is created by little vignettes in most scenes, whether it be office, park, a cafe or a dance. All are portrayed with articulated detail – at times a little intrusive – but this gives a real truth to the work and brings the hustle bustle of the city scape closer to reality and also, in true musical theatre style, break out into musical ‘flash mob’ numbers to emphasise or support the protagonist or context.
The choreography by Katty Lau gives stylised movement to elevate the urban clamour or nurture the flow of processing life choices or events. This is also shown in Laura Sissons’ lighting design and the costuming from Brendan Goudswaard, which feels familiar and stylistically comfortable for the range of city characters we meet.
The nine piece band under musical director Cameron Stewart gives excellent accompaniment and sensitive under-scoring to the whole. Balance where I was seated worked pretty well for the majority of the show but at times the swell and richness of sound overpowered the lighter voices particularly with the difficulty of playing the width of the room in the extended playing area. The music is beautifully rich with some gorgeous melodies with hints of Sondheim – particularly Sunday in the Park with George – both musically and in scene painting moments.
Overall this production by Wellington Footlights is fantastic: it moves and flows, touches and triggers and journeys us through with many heart-wrenching emotions.
There are many moments of individual highlight and showcasing of talent I could mention, but what I am left with more is a sense of the entire ensemble taking these powerful moments and working together to bring this musical to Wellington audiences with a passion of heart and well-rehearsed commitment.
A great reminder that life is happening now, so find your village, love it and live it.
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