About the author:
After earning almost every accolade imaginable (including a Tony Award and oh, a little thing called the Pulitzer Prize) for his first Broadway musical Next to Normal, writer Brian Yorkey is teaming up again with composer Tom Kitt to bring If/Then to Broadway. The production, which marks Tony winner Idina Menzel’s long-awaited return to the Broadway stage, tells the story of a 30-something woman who moves to New York City for a second chance. If/Then, which begins Broadway performances on March 5, has undergone several significant changes since its out-of-town premiere at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. last fall. Below, Yorkey reveals the things he learned while debuting the new musical in our nation’s capital with director Michael Greif, “superhuman talent” Idina Menzel and the cast.
1. The National Theatre, where shows like West Side Story and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum tried out, is a great place to try out your show. A historic auditorium, a welcoming staff, an eager audience—everything we could ask for.
2. The best way to learn what work needs to be done on a new musical is to watch it with an audience. Especially an audience of 1000-plus savvy, enthusiastic Washington theatergoers. They’ll tell you what’s working, what’s not, what’s thrilling, what’s confusing, what’s funny, what’s not—and all you really have to do is watch, listen and learn.
3. The director of city planning for Washington, D.C., Harriet Tregoning, is one of the smartest, coolest people I’ve ever met. I’m proud to say she informed and inspired my work on our lead character, Elizabeth, who is a city planner.
4. It’s a blessing to reunite with a team you’ve worked with before. Tom Kitt, David Stone, Michael Greif and I can finish each other’s sentences at this point—even when we disagree, we click. To have that trust with each other, and that shorthand, gives you great courage in facing the world of a new musical.
5. The sushi happy hour at The Hamilton is delicious and an incredible pre-show deal. Ditto the raw bar at Old Ebbitt Grill, post-show. I was not paid for these endorsements. (But gifts are always accepted...)
6. We learned which songs light up the theater, and which could be better—and we can’t wait to debut a few new songs, and a stack of newly improved ones.
7. Our cast kicks ass, and they do it with style and smiles. We have the most versatile ensemble I’ve ever met, and eight astounding principals, any one of whom could carry their own Broadway show—and most have.
8. It’s a joy and a privilege to work with Idina. She is a true star. No diva fits for her, no difficulties, no extra needs—just good cheer, enthusiasm, an unflagging work ethic, genuine care and concern for everyone around her...and a superhuman talent that never ceases to amaze me.
9. The President’s motorcade has three limos, five SUVs, two dozen police cars, and shuts down six city blocks at a time. The Vice President’s motorcade has one limo, one SUV, and a couple of mopeds. The barista at the Starbucks on Pennsylvania and 12th can tell you all about motorcades.
10. I learned that our show speaks to many people, of all ages and walks of life, and that a few of them, in our tryout run, were confused in places. Luckily, I also got to learn which places and that gave us lots to work with when we returned to NYC this winter. Thankfully, we had two months off to address the changes we wanted to make and we used every minute of those two months. Hopefully, some of those D.C. folks can come back and see how they’ve helped us make the storytelling clearer and the show even more powerful.
11. I learned—or, really, re-learned—that there’s nothing more challenging or more rewarding than writing a new musical based on nothing more than an idea. We learned so much about If/Then in Washington, D.C. last fall, and we can’t wait to show what we learned at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.