Five years ago, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s groundbreaking Next to Normal featured bipolar disorder, bereavement and suicide in a Broadway musical set against a powerful rock-infused score. Their latest, equally exciting, piece is If/Then, which reunites them with director Michael Greif – original director of Jonathan Larson’s suburban saga Rent – who in turn has brought two of the original stars of Rent on board in Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp. The original Elphaba in Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked, Menzel is a genuine Broadway star, earning an ovation on her entrance at the top of the show – and check out John Travolta mispronouncing her name as ‘Adele Dazeem’ when introducing her song from Disney’s Frozen at the Oscars earlier this year. Once again, Kitt and Yorkey’s latest show is not your typical Broadway fayre – to a large extent, it’s an uncommercial piece which has found a Broadway home with commercial names attached to it, playing in a larger space than would otherwise be possible. Neither is it a traditional musical – the songs are musical sequences that are part of the action with no huge showstoppers that are likely to have a life outside the show. If/Then is indeed a contemporary piece, set to an edgy modern pop score...but with a dual storyline.

Menzel’s Elizabeth – almost forty and freshly divorced – returns to New York to make a fresh start. On her first day back, she meets new neighbour Kate and old uni friend Lucas in the park. Kate refers to her as ‘Liz’ and suggests going to listen to an attractive guitarist nearby, while Lucas, a bisexual former lover, calls her ‘Beth’ and encourages her to join his activist group. Elizabeth is torn between the two possibilities and the rest of the show maps out how her life would go if she followed Kate as Liz or if she followed Lucas as Beth. This dual storyline actually works and is engrossing – one is rarely left in doubt as to who Menzel is playing at any one time, as her friends refer to her as ‘Liz’ or ‘Beth’ regularly throughout, and Liz conveniently also wears glasses for most of her scenes. The plot – and indeed parts of the score – goes back and forth between the two, keeping up the many twists and turns right until the end.

Menzel has great presence and confidence as the central heroine, although she does tend to riff or belt in her own characteristic style on notes that don’t really need it in Kitt’s score – less could ultimately have been more in her performance. Elizabeth’s choice on that fateful day naturally affect the lives of her two close friends. LaChance – a performer I wasn’t familiar with before – is a real find as the personable and vibrant Kate. A kindergarten teacher, she provides a lot of laughs during the evening as someone who constantly makes a ‘new best friend who I’ve only just met!’. Anthony Rapp’s intense activist Lucas is a great contrast, contemplating impending fatherhood in one strand of the plot, or being reluctant to settle down with Jason Tam’s earnest, lovable David in the other

If/Then’s examination of the ‘what ifs’ in life is compelling in its execution and universality – most of us have wondered what would have happened if we had taken another route – and the desire to change the past with hindsight has already been explored in Peggy Sue Got Married and other less-acclaimed, more superficial shows. A large mirror forms a ceiling on the two-tier set here, further reflecting the twists and turns and the thoughts and dreams of the protagonists’ lives below. Will Liz find everlasting love with handsome army doctor Josh (David Tennant lookalike James Snyder) or will Beth get off her city planning career ladder and discover what’s truly important in life? The songs of If/Then further our understanding of these characters and their situations in this musical about life, which comes full circle for Menzel’s Elizabeth in a clever and thought-provoking ending to this completely fresh, truthful and new musical tale of two worlds which are so different...or are they?