“I know all the odds and even so…”
One of the temptations with cast recordings, and something that’s been facilitated by the dawning of the digital age, is to make a playlist of your favourite songs and then forget about the others. I am terrible for doing this – it’s why I’m word perfect on only half of Wicked – and yet I never seen to stop. If/Then is a good example of this – the edited highlights on my iPhone give the impression of a great show whereas the reality is more just good.
Predictably, these excerpts mostly include Idina Menzel’s inimitable vocal, around which Tom Kitt’s score was crafted. The delicate duet of ‘Here I Go’ with the lovely James Snyder, the stirring ‘You Learn To Live Without’, the irresistible melodic force of ‘Always Starting Over’, she’s so at home in this world of emotionally swirling tunes that it is impossible not to get swept up with her, especially in the last song’s slow-building climax.
But listening to the collection as a whole, you are struck by the tricksiness of the plot – Menzel takes the dual roles of Liz and Beth, the two different but concurrent paths a woman might have taken in life, surrounded by friends and lovers who are the same in both but who equally take different journeys. Without the strong visual cues, it’s quite tricky to follow the twin narratives, especially when we move between the two midsong, which would surely limit the interest of those who haven’t actually seen the show.
Which is a shame, as there’s good work throughout this album. LaChanze and Anthony Rapp both stand out as strong and interesting representatives of the LGBT community, particularly in their impassioned contributions to ‘Love While You Can’ and ‘You Don’t Need To Love Me’. And the wordiness of Brian Yorkey’s lyrics provide much interest, teasing out this tale of 40-something angst into something universal. I shouldn’t recommend a pick’n’mix approach but even after revisiting If/Then, I’ve little interest in listening to the songs I rarely listened to and I still love the others.