I was offered two free tickets to see the Broadway touring production of “If / Then” at the Straz Center in Tampa, Florida so I could tell you about it. All opinions are my own. And I’ll begin with a poem from my childhood…
by Shel Silverstein
Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pol?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow talle?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems swell, and then
The nighttime Whatifs strike again!
I always thought the poem above was relatable but exaggerated, until I had a daughter with high anxiety. Whatifs drove her crazy. I think a combination of high intelligence and a vivid imagination allows her to think of many possible outcomes every time she is faced with a decision. She immediately conjures up worst case scenarios. This can help with being prepared for many situations, but imagine applying to college when your brain works overtime trying to sabotage you?! And so we tried talk therapy to help my daughter learn to calm the whatifs. She need to sleep soundly each night. She needed to not have rigid shoulders up to her ears in stress. And early in high school after she met with Dr. Deb for the first time, she left saying, “I wish I had started therapy in fourth grade.”
May is Mental Health Month, with a mission to spread the word that mental health is something everyone should care about, not be scared to talk about. Although I know what it feels like to have my mind racing or feelings of high anticipation, I also know it is not the same thing as true anxiety. Over 21% of adults (42.5 million) are affected by debilitating anxiety each year! Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the tactic I have read up on the most to help my children understand their thinking patterns so they can react differently to the situations that cause them anxiety. It gives them a great toolbox to turn to in times of stress.
For my day-to-day whatifs, what works best is a quiet yoga class and meditative breathing exercises. Although I sometimes wonder whatif, I can use these tools to dispel the mind racing that might have once kept me awake at night. Instead, a like to think of my whatifs as a little healthy daydreaming. What if I had a Master’s Degree? What if one of my daughters loved ballet class instead of sports? And the biggest question of my life – what if I hadn’t contracted colitis during sophomore year of college and come home sick and met that cute guy named Brian – my husband of nearly 20 years?
If/Then is a contemporary Broadway musical about the whatifs that come along with living in New York as an adult today. When you are on your own and making adult decisions that have a domino affect on your future and those around you, it gives you pause to wonder and consider the many possible outcomes.
When I first heard about “If/Then”, it was often compared to the Broadway musical “Rent”. I don’t like the comparison – mainly because If/Then is much less edgy and deals with a slightly older crowd, maybe 10-15 years after the lives of those in Rent. But LUCKILY Anthony Rapp of the original Rent cast AND the Rent movie cast is touring with If/Then right NOW and you can see/hear him at the Straz Center if you get your tickets this week!
The top three reasons to see If/Then in Tampa this week are Jackie Burns (played Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway), Anthony Rapp (from RENT as mentioned above) and Tamyra Gray (from the first season of American Idol.)
Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, the writer and composer team of If/Then, literally composed songs for Idina Menzel (Wicked, Frozen). Idina’s first Broadway job was in — Rent! Also in the original cast of Rent was — Anthony Rapp. And now Jackie Burns has followed in Idina’s footsteps twice, playing both Elphaba in Wicked and Elizabeth in If/Then – touting similar dark locks and a belting voice that won’t quit. Notice the serendipity? The interconnectivity? The stuff that makes you wonder if it’s a coincidence or fate? THAT is what If/Then is all about!! Like the line “We somehow find each other in each other’s eyes” from the If/Then song “Ain’t No Man Manhattan.”
There’s minimal dancing in this show. It highlights characters, lives, stories, and voices. It shows how we’re braver with great friends by our sides (or capes on our backs) and that the amazing joys life brings usually make the crap tolerable. It also deals with the delicate balance many women face of pursuing a career head-on or focusing on family, and how both routes bring joy but both force women to learn to live without some desires.
The show started kind of cheesy for me, but the voices kept my attention and the ending roped me in and made me a fan! If/Then is playing May 19th-22nd (mostly evening with 2pm matinees Saturday and Sunday) at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, Carol Morsani Hall, Tampa. $40-$95. (813) 229-7827 or strazcenter.org. Upcoming Broadway shows include “Jersey Boys”, “Into the Woods”, “An American in Paris”, “Cabaret”, “Wicked” and much more!