Janine DiVita On The Message of ‘If/Then’
“If/Then,” the Broadway hit production written by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, charts the possible paths of Elizabeth who has moved back to New York City looking for a new start in the (post-)modern world. While the musical has garnered praise and success as well as reaching the Billboard charts, it now comes to St. Louis and the Fox Theater for what is bound to be a wonderful run. “If/Then” is the sort of story that is open-ended and subtle, set to great songs that carry the heft of the hard and difficult choices that Elizabeth and her friends must make in the Big Apple. I had the chance to speak to Janine DiVita who plays Anne in the current production.
You play Anne in “If/Then” but are also an understudy for the role of Elizabeth. What’s it like straddling two worlds, as it were?
I view those responsibilities as two very distinct duties. I learned each role at the same time, so that was a bit nuts! Anne and Elizabeth (Liz/Beth) are entirely different people, so when I concentrate on one role, I don’t think about the other. Each requires your undivided attention when you are studying the roles and embodying them. Anne and Elizabeth have a strong bond as friends, but separately as individual women, they each have their own backstories, baggage, journeys, physicality, etc.
For me, when playing the role, it comes to down preparedness—which means doing a lot of your own self-led work, and really committing to each character in a truthful way. It also means being present in each moment within the story.
Anne is a good combination of Kate and Elizabeth (Liz/Beth) in my opinion, because she is fun-loving and open to life’s adventures like Kate, but she is also pragmatic and matter of fact about things like Liz/Beth.
Elizabeth (Liz/Beth) in my opinion and in my interpretation of the role, is damaged from her past experiences and disappointments, and she is trying her best to build herself back up and find that fire within herself again. Elizabeth is an incredibly rich character so you can always delve deeper into her psyche. Both Elizabeth and Anne allow for a lot of personalization, which is great in such a contemporary piece.
How did you first become involved with the production of “If/Then?”
I became involved with the production when the tour went out. They were looking for an actress to play Anne for the duration of the entire tour, and who would also be the first cover for Idina Menzel, who was launching the tour as Elizabeth and then for Jackie Burns who would be replacing Idina.
Craig Burns, who is a casting director at Telsey in NYC, called me in to audition and I sang “Always Starting Over” and I did a scene as Anne. The process was very brief, and I got the call that I got the job the next morning. I knew Michael Greif from a project we worked on at Vassar through New York Stage and Film the summer before—which was a stage adaptation of “A Walk on The Moon” film where I played the Diane Lane role, Pearl. So people on the creative team were somewhat familiar with me already, which I think worked in my favor.
Is there a specific audience with whom the play is resonating?
I believe the audience member who gets the most out of our show is someone who is sensitive and who enjoys thought provoking, stimulating, and ironic material—and also someone who loves music! Yes, “If/Then” is visually stunning with a high-tech set and awesome projections, but beyond that, it speaks to the mysteries of choice and chance and it encourages each audience member to be empowered by Elizabeth’s journey and by each person who is touched by her choices. We’ve had wonderful responses from all the cities we’ve been to, and I can personally say that this show has changed my life in a profound way by reminding me to be emboldened and express gratitude for both losses and gains because pain and joy are equally part of the beautiful human experience.
How did you personally get your start in acting and signing?
I got my start in acting and singing when I was really little. I grew up in Kansas City and, like most little girls, I started taking dance lessons at 3. My parents noticed that I had really good pitch when I would sing along to cartoons and disney movies, so they put me in voice lessons. I did community theatre all through elementary, middle, and high school and then upon being accepted, I decided to attend the University of Michigan to major in Musical Theatre and Communications Studies. I moved to NYC after graduation, signed with representation, and started auditioning.
In “If/Then,” there are also two possible worlds that Elizabeth moves between. What do these two plots say about our choices?
I think that the two worlds (Liz vs. Beth) speak to the notion that while we don’t know what the future holds, per se, we can make choices in a way that honors our instincts. I think it’s also important to notice how each person she meets throughout her journey in the show impacts her life in a different way, and how she impacts them in return. This is so important because we never know why people are placed in our lives.
I think that what the story itself is trying to say is that the universe has our back, in a sense, and that the human spirt is very strong. In one plot, it seems all easy breezy, but then—BOOM!—a big change occurs and in the other plot—her path is more of a slow, somewhat lonely burn—and then BOOM! another big change. We never know what destiny has in store, but we can trust ourselves and our inner wisdom.
What do you think “If/Then,” with its dual worlds and myriad choices, is trying to “say” to and for the audience?
I think that “If/Then” is ultimately trying to say “trust in yourself and the universe.”