“You Never Know”
It was fate, the story goes, that brought together composer Tom Kitt and writer/lyricist Brian Yorkey in the spring of 1994.
Kitt had been recruited for the Columbia soccer team and was studying economics, but felt himself being pulled, instead, in the direction of a musical career. One night, in search of a musician to assist with a crisis at Columbia’s famed “Varsity Show,” Kitt’s future wife, the actress Rita Pietropinto, knocked on his door for help.
Kitt saved the day, and met Yorkey, a “Varsity Show” veteran, in the process. The rest was history.
“Every day we make choices,” Kitt says. “Sometimes they’re just small choices and sometimes they’re bigger ones. But we often wonder about the power of those choices and whether our life would have turned out the way it did.”
“If we look back to where we met, there was an awful lot of chance involved,” Yorkey agrees. “What if Tom had not been home when Rita knocked on his door?”
“It’s a Sign”
Those questions about choice and chance became the heart of “If/Then,” Kitt and Yorkey’s followup collaboration to the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning “Next to Normal.” Tracing two possible trajectories in the life of Elizabeth, a city planner portrayed by Idina Menzel, the musical depicts how unexpected moments can alter your life’s path.
“At one point, Elizabeth says 'Every small occurrence in your life has the ability to change it forever,’” says Yorkey. “Those moments that change everything – those are our ‘If/Then Stories.’”
Menzel recalls her own “If/Then Story,” a role she didn’t land for Michael Greif, who would later direct her in “Rent” and “If/Then.”
“If I hadn’t auditioned for Michael in a show no one’s ever heard of, then he wouldn’t have ever seen me and thought to bring me in for ‘Rent,’” she says. In addition to being her first professional theater gig, her creation of the character Maureen also landed her a Tony nomination and paved the way for her portrayal of Elphaba in “Wicked.”
“But the whole point of ‘If/Then’ is not to look back so much, and to understand that the choices you make set a pathway – but they don’t define you.”
“What Would You Do?”
Like “Next to Normal,” which attracted a fan base that deeply related to the themes of family, fallout and mental illness, “If/Then” also invokes personal reflection.
“You find yourself wondering what you would do in Elizabeth’s situation,” says Yorkey. “And then, considering the choices you’ve made in your own life. It can get very emotional. Audiences want to share their stories with us, let us know that they’ve experienced similar things.”
Fans of the show haven’t been shy about relating those tales, which are being collected and displayed in an online portal called “If/Then Stories.” Many of them revolve around happenstance meetings or odd circumstances that put them in the path of true love. Others describe how unfortunate situations – like being fired, or meeting “dad’s new girlfriend” for the first time – actually altered their lives for the better.
In addition to fans’ stories, cast and creative team members, including Kitt, Yorkey and Menzel, have shared their own make-or-break moments in a series of videos.
“It’s our way of thanking everyone for being so passionate about the show,” says Yorkey. “And celebrating the junctures that transform our lives.”
Watch Idina Menzel describe her “If/Then Story.”