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Theatre / If/Then

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No one knows the way the long road bends...

"Some other me is homeless, some other me is queen
Some other me has seen things that no other me has seen
If I met her I would ask her that one question we both fear
Some other me, how'd we end up here?"

If/Then is a 2014 Broadway musical written by Tom Kitt & Brian Yorkey, who also wrote Next to Normal. If/Then is a look at the life of Elizabeth Vaughn (originally played by Idina Menzel), who has recently moved back to New York following her divorce to start a new life.

At the beginning of the show, Elizabeth is given a seemingly minor choice of which friend to accompany during her first day back in the big city; Lucas, her longtime friend/college fling (who wants her to dive back into the political activism they were part of in college) or her fun loving and happy-go-lucky new friend Kate (who mostly wants her to heal from the divorce and learn how to enjoy life).

That choice ends up dramatically changing the course of her life. The musical follows two timelines; in one Elizabeth chooses Kate, starts going by "Liz", meets her future husband Josh, and decides to focus on romance and family. Meanwhile in the other timeline she chose Lucas, went back to calling herself "Beth", as she did in her younger days, and winds up focusing on her career.

The two paths diverge wildly and but also occasionally parallel each other in certain ways as time goes on.

Provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Idina Menzel's character singing "some other me is homeless/some other me is queen" — referring to actual other hers in Menzel's characters from RENT (who is homeless) and Frozen (2013)/Enchanted (both of whom are queens, more memorably in Frozen).
  • Alternate Self: Liz and Beth are the different versions of Elizabeth that develop based on whether she left with Lucas or Kate on that fateful day in the park. Beth is more career focused while Liz pursues a family life. Also discussed in "Some Other Me" when Lucas and Beth ponder the various different people they could be if things went differently in their life.
  • Alternate Timeline: Liz chose to go with Kate to listen to a musician in the park. Beth chose to go with Lucas to attend a protest. The timeline diverges from there. Amusingly enough, the play is filled to the brim with events and choices that would seem to be prime fodder for the creation of more alternate timelines, (such as making far weightier choices than choosing between the advice of Kate and Lucas) although it sticks to the Liz and Beth timelines rather than branching off further or exploring others.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Happens to Lucas in a big way in the Beth timeline. He's held a torch for Elizabeth for years, and leaps at the chance to be closer to her when she moves back into town, perhaps hoping from the start that there was a chance of them rekindling their college romance. While they do wind up having a brief physical relationship, it blows up in their faces, and Lucas' behavior not only drives Beth away from him but also makes her decide to have an abortion, which cuts Lucas deeply because he has secretly longed to be a father. The whole thing almost destroys their friendship for good (probably not helped by the fact that when he wrote his book Lucas slammed Beth in it), and years pass before they can patch things up.
  • Beta Couple: Kate and Anne are the secondary couple in each story; the "Liz" timeline also has Lucas and David, whose debate over starting a family provides some conflict. Each couple has a song about their relationship: David and Lucas have "Best Worst Mistake" and Kate and Anne have "Love While You Can."
  • Big Applesauce: It's important to the plot that the play takes place in New York.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Both timelines end in a place that has both at least some elements of a bittersweet ending, although not equally so. Liz has been widowed but has her beloved children, is recovering from the loss of Josh, and is finally starting to do the work she first set out to do in college, while Beth is accomplished and acclaimed in her field while also being lonely and increasingly disillusioned with her job. However she has plans to change careers and finally meets Josh. Because a bit from the very beginning of the play makes much more sense after seeing the end, it seems that Beth's relationship with Josh is going to be a happy one.
  • Book Ends:
    • The show begins with Elizabeth reminiscing about meeting up with Lucas and Kate in the park and choosing which one to leave with. The show ends with Beth meeting up with Lucas and Kate in the park and meeting Josh in circumstances very similar to his meeting with Liz. This is lampshaded in the first line of the song (and its reprise): "Here's how it starts, and here's how it ends..."
    • Kate in the beginning assures Lucas that she is not just a good kindergarten teacher, she is a "fucking great kindergarten teacher". In the Beth storyline, when she receives Kindergarten Teacher of the Year Award, he says, "You are a fucking great kindergarten teacher!"
  • Break the Cutie:
    • Liz breaks down with Anger Born of Worry when Josh has to leave for his third deployment. She breaks down further on hearing of his death.
    • Kate in both storylines when Anne cheats on her. Hearing the defeated, bitter tone from the otherwise always upbeat and positive Kate when she is Drowning My Sorrows can hit like a gut punch for the audience.
  • But We Used a Condom!: Josh is surprised to hear that Liz is pregnant because they were "very safe." Liz snarks, "We are, but apparently New York City Transit novelty condoms, not so much."
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Lucas, in regards to his desire to have children. Causes a falling out with Beth when she has an abortion and doesn't tell him about it. In contrast, David in the Liz storyline can see that Lucas yearns for (even as he simultaneously fears) having children, and encourages him to consider adopting a child.
  • Casting Gag: Lucas and Elizabeth are on-and-off lovers and social advocates played by Anthony Rapp and Idina Menzel respectfully, a callback to their first role together in RENT as the ex-lovers and social advocates Mark and Maureen. It's fairly accurate to say that Lucas is Mark, except about 10-12 years older and not having changed at all in the meantime, for better or worse. Note that RENT shares a director with If/Then.
  • Character Development: Most dramatic with Elizabeth; Liz and Beth evolve into very different characters over the course of the show, due to the circumstances and choices they make. Lucas also goes down very different paths and evolves into different people in the two timelines.
  • Chekhov's Gun: An extremely subtle one. The play opens with Elizabeth speaking about first meeting Josh in the park, and mentions how it was at the end of his third tour of duty with the Army. However as Josh has served two tours when they meet in the Liz timeline, and dies when, after several delays, he goes out on his third, and he doesn't approach her in the park during the Beth timeline, it may seem like a flubbed line or a weird inconsistency until the very end of the musical when the audience has most likely forgotten it if they ever noticed it at all, when it turns out to have been Beth speaking, as in this timeline Josh survives his third tour and they meet in the park after he comes home again.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: "What the Fuck?" repeats the titular phrase throughout the chorus when Elizabeth hits some obstacles and emotional complications in her life. A Theater Mania blog joked that this musical's release being so close in proximity to Western Animation/Frozen means that more than one young fan excited to see the voice of Elsa live probably heard the word for the first time.
  • Death Song: "The Moment Explodes" is about the feeling you get when you realize your life is on the line. No one actually dies, though.
  • Domestic Abuse: Elizabeth was abused by Orin during her marriage, which is one of various reasons that ultimately made her decide to leave him and move to make a fresh start at the start of the story.
  • Double-Blind What-If: The song "Some Other Me" has Beth and Lucas ponder other lives they could have lived. Some possible lives they bring up, such as the two of them staying friends without sexual tension and Lucas having a husband and son, are present in the alternate "Liz" timeline. To add to the irony, Lucas briefly passes David, his husband in the Liz timeline, at the end of the scene.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Kate downs neat whiskey at the bar in the Beth storyline after learning that Anne cheated on her.
  • Eleven O'Clock Number: The penultimate song, "Always Starting Over," is a vocally powerful musical soliloquy where Liz comes to terms with Josh's death.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: Lucas, Elizabeth, and Stephen all were students together in college.
  • For Want of a Nail: Each storyline is different depending on the choices that Elizabeth makes. Some notable examples:
    • Liz/Beth answering or ignoring her phone. Answering the phone, which Beth does, leads to her old college friend and colleague Stephen offering her a job in the commissioner's office. Not answering it leads to Stephen being forced to hire the deputy's "idiot" nephew instead, who does such a terrible job that at least one child is mentioned as having been killed in traffic due to a poorly thought out intersection.
    • Lucas writing or not writing his book. Heartbroken in the Beth storyline after Beth aborts their baby, he finishes the book and becomes The Last DJ to community activists. In contrast, because he has David in the Liz storyline, he focuses more on their relationship and it's hinted that he may never finish the book.
    • Kate and Anne divorcing or staying together, depends on whether Liz/Beth finds out. Beth does find out, and having just had a Near-Death Experience, she convinces them to try to get past their issues and give their relationship a chance to heal. Liz is grieving over Josh's death, and struggling to take care of her children, and thus had no idea that they were divorcing.
    • Josh's third deployment. Liz's pregnancies delayed this deployment, so when he finally ships out he's in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets killed. In the Beth storyline, he goes on his third deployment as scheduled and survives, so that he encounters Beth later in the park at the play's conclusion.
  • Friends with Benefits: Beth and Lucas briefly become sleep together after Stephen turns down her advances. However Lucas quickly becomes clingy, jealous, and demanding in ways he swore he wouldn't be, and the arrangement doesn't last long.
  • Genki Girl: Kate to some extent, as her constant positive energy and upbeat nature carries many of the same overtones as the trope. Heck, it's a big part of why she gets nominated Best Kindergarten Teacher of the Year, as she brings that same energy, enthusiasm, and unconventional approach to teaching.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Lucas shows this in both storylines when different men hit on Liz and Beth respectively. Meeting David in the Liz storyline allows him to get over it, but seeing Stephen flirt with Beth... he doesn't deal with it well. At all.
  • Grief Song: "Learn To Live Without" is about Beth and Liz coping with their respective loneliness, as Beth has no family due to being Married to the Job while Liz copes with losing her husband in the war.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    Josh: I choose not to be hurt by that. I understand pregnant women are emotional.
    Liz: I'm not emotional. Fuck you, I'll kill you.
  • It's All About Me: Liz confesses to being this when singing with Josh, but Beth shows it more when she plants a Forceful Kiss on Stephen, ignoring the fact that he's married and his wife has witnessed their gestures.
  • Junior Counterpart: Beth has a young assistant who reminds her a lot of herself. When the younger woman becomes pregnant and plans to leave her job and move away from New York as per the wishes of her partner, it uncomfortably reminds Beth of her younger self and trying to support her abusive husband Orin, to the detriment of her own life and career. She tries to discreetly talk the younger woman into reconsidering, but ultimately has to accept it when her aide won't change her mind.
  • The Last DJ: In the Beth timeline, Lucas has become this to community activists after completing his book. As one young woman oh so thoughtfully says "You're proof we don't all have to sell out when we get old!"
  • Love at First Sight: Played With when Lucas meets David in the Liz storyline; on meeting the latter he says, "You have a house? Hi, David."
  • Love Redeems: When David starts dating Lucas, the latter receives the impetus to grow up and mature. Even when David invites Lucas to move in officially, Lucas at first demurs because he's worried it's traditional. David tells him traditional is more than fine, and their relationship is real. It gets to the point where Liz trusts them to take her baby out for strolls.
  • Love Martyr: Lucas tries to be one for Beth, even singing a song about it. Then the two of them messily break things off when him being a Manchild at exactly the wrong time makes her decide to abort their child. They don't speak for several years after that, until Beth's Near-Death Experience makes her decide to seek him out and renew their friendship.
  • Love Triangle: A messy one happens in the Beth timeline. Lucas is still in love with Beth, who just sees him as a friend. Beth, who is On the Rebound after the end of her marriage, has romantic tension with her (married) colleague Stephen and kisses him, but also ends up sleeping with Lucas afterward. She gets so upset with herself that she sings a song ("What the Fuck") where she calls herself out on it all.
  • Manchild: Discussed about Lucas, when his boyfriend David implies he is one when they discuss having children.
    Lucas: Children are needy, whiny and moody.
    David: I tend to find that endearing.
    Lucas: I see what you did there.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl:
    • Kate is a minor example as her main purpose is to spunkily encourage Elizabeth to pursue her dreams (romantic for Liz, career for Beth), though she becomes disillusioned in both storylines when her girlfriend cheats on her. She encourages Beth to keep her job and her kindergartners nominate Beth as their hero.
    • Lucas tries to be a male version, particularly in the Beth time, but fails at it for various reasons, including that his blithe, Manchild attitude and clingy possessiveness convinces Beth that he's too immature to be with, especially when she discovers that she's pregnant. In the Liz timeline he at least meets David and the two share a lifelong and devoted relationship, although even there some subtle, minor deconstructions of the trope are present. Also Lucas does a lot more to grow up in the Liz timeline.
  • Married to the Job: Beth dedicates her attention to work as a city planner at the expense of settling down and finding a family.
  • Milestone Birthday Angst: Elizabeth is 38 at the start of the musical, and part of her angst is about how she's close to 40 years old and doesn't have enough time to revive her love life and career, as seen in the opening number "What If?":
    "As I'm flirting with forty
    There's no time to wait
    And I can't help but feel
    I'm already too late!"
  • Near-Death Experience: During a business trip, Beth is on a plane that suddenly develops some technical problems. In the aftermath of this brush with mortality, she decides to make some changes to her life.
  • No Bisexuals: Discussed In-Universe. Liz tells Josh that she doesn't "believe in independents; it's like bisexuals, pick a side", and Kate is convinced that Lucas is gay, to the point of being shocked when Beth tells her she's pregnant with Lucas's child. Ultimately subverted in that Lucas's bisexuality is embraced by the narrative; he is romantically involved with a woman in one timeline and with a man in the other, though the word "bisexual" is never explicitly used for him — When Kate assumes Lucas is gay, Liz just explains that Lucas Experimented in College.
  • On the Rebound: Elizabeth is fresh out of a bad, abusive marriage that is implied to have been unhappy for years. She winds up having a need for intimacy and being susceptible to falling into bed with people, it causes complications for her in both timelines.
  • Parental Love Song: "Hey Kid" is Josh singing to his newborn child about how excited he is to watch the kid grow up.
  • Parting-Words Regret:
    • Subverted; while Liz is mad at Josh for having to leave for his third deployment, she hugs him before he has to ship abroad. While she's shocked and grieving when he dies, she doesn't have regrets about their farewell. It's implied they kept in contact up to his death, so he knew that she still loved him.
    • Invoked; after her Near-Death Experience, Beth reaches out to Kate and Lucas, since she wants them in her life.
  • Significant Name Shift: Plays with this trope by chronicling two separate timelines following Elizabeth's move to New York. In the one where she focuses on love and family, she adopts the nickname "Liz", and in the one where she focuses on her career, she adopts the nickname "Beth".
  • Spiritual Successor: To RENT. Aside from maintaining two members of the original cast and the New York-and-proud-of-it setting, the matters of artistic integrity, work and life balance, and passion (of romantic and vocational varieties) resound in both plays.
  • Split Timelines Plot: The story splits when Elizabeth decides to hang out with either Kate (the "Liz" timeline, where she focuses on romance and family) or Lucas (the "Beth" timeline, where she focuses on her career) at the park when she first moves to New York.
  • Tsundere: Lucas is this around David, not even willing to say "I love you" because he feels the words are too shallow to express the depths of his affections.
  • Wham Line:
    • During the last chorus of "What The Fuck?," Elizabeth lies in bed with a man. We can't see the man yet, and we can't tell if this is Liz or Beth who is singing. Then she sings, "I managed to involve my best friend" and it's clear that Beth ended up sleeping with Lucas.
    • During "I Hate You," when it becomes very clear that Josh died during his deployment:
      I hate that I hate you, I hate that I love you, I love you, I... loved you!