Local theater kicks off 2024 season with ‘If/Then’

Courtesy of Riverfront Theater Company | Katie Aeillo (left) and Sam Brooks (right) follow the 'if' of starting a family in one timeline, while the other followed the path of a terminated pregnancy.

Megan Trotter | News Editor

If you’ve ever wondered about the “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve” of your life, then Riverfront Theater Company’s opening musical for its 2024 season, “If/Then,” could be for you. Originally written by playwright Brian Yorkey, the show debuted on Broadway back in 2014 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Score.

The musical’s storyline follows 38-year-old divorcé Elizabeth (Katie Aiello) who moves back to New York City. Elizabeth ponders the “what ifs,” of life, imagining how small, seemingly insignificant decisions could have led her life in two totally different directions.

Due to the Riverfront show’s location, director Olivia Hartle had to work to create a show that would adhere to the restrictions of such a small, garage-like theater space.

“The thrust stage allows for the audience to sit on three sides of the stage, so they can see the actors in sort of [a] 360 view, which is kind of cool. And I wanted to use that particular design because of the … nature of the show itself,” Hartle said. “It’s a show that’s about interconnectedness. It’s a show that’s about the sort of intimacy of our personal relationships and how we all connect with one another.”

Despite the complex plot, costume designer Dana Schulte did an excellent job detailing the differences between Elizabeth’s life as a career woman wearing pantsuits and professional business attire, and her other hypothetical life as mother where she has glasses and maternity dresses.

Each scene of the show lasted no longer than a minute or two, to avoid any member of the performance from looking at an actor’s back for too long. However, due to limited space for set placement, it was often the same seats in the theater who received the temporarily obstructed view.

“[The stage manager] and I worked together to create a scene transition list. So, everybody in the cast knew exactly who was supposed to do what when and then we had to work through that a lot during the rehearsal process,” Hartle said.

Props master Katie Abramowich said that because the show was so props-based, she was forced to prioritize and remove unnecessary items like “pens and business cards.”

The “If/Then” cast rehearsed for roughly six months leading up to the show; however the tech team was only able to join them a week prior to the show’s original opening night.

While Abramowich said the crew was able to run the entire show straight-through on Thursday, which was supposed to be the official opening night, the theater’s unconventional layout continued to pose problems on Friday, and Frankie Shoup, one of the sound technicians, spent the entire performance combating sound issues.

Actor Mike Good said it was nerve racking on Thursday.

“We made the decision to convert Thursday to a preview, and then we ended up opening Friday. I’m just really happy and proud of the team that came together to make the show go off. This is a very difficult decision to make – to not cancel a performance but to convert the expectations of the performance,” Good said.

While the show did have a 13-musician orchestra, a particularly large group for a community theater, they played remotely. Conductor Mike Meketa Sanchez watched the performance via screen so he knew when to instruct everyone to play.

Because the music was coming from a different room, Shoup had to adjust the sound level of the character’s voices and singing rather than the level of the orchestra. At times it was difficult to hear the cast members.

The two alternative storylines did become confusing when trying to determine the timeline of Elizabeth’s contrasting lives, as the theater utilized the overhead wall to project scenery to provide context of where the play was happening in space and time.

The projections came from one set of three-row lighting, the most complex lighting ever used in the theater according to Shoup. Unfortunately, the projections were much too small to bring enough attention to them, especially if you’re already lost in the actor’s emotions and singing.

Scenes between Elizabeth and her lover, Josh (Sam Brooks) were raw and chilling. Aiello does an incredible job depicting her multiple character arcs, which included the agony of a wartime wife and the pain of losing a loved one.

The show begins at 8 p.m. and runs for roughly two and a half hours with a 15-minute intermission. The show will close on Saturday at Allegheny RiverTrail Park in Aspinwall. Tickets cost $30 for general admission and $50 for VIP seats in the front row; they are available at riverfronttheaterco.org.