Multiple everyday choices are a part of regular life, but there are a few among those many that stand out and those few are usually the ones that have life-changing consequences. In “If/Then,” the Broadway musical written by Brian Yorkey that’s now playing at Royal Oak’s Stagecrafters through Feb. 17, those decisions are explored at length. The show follows a character who, early on in the play, is faced with a decision to go with either her friend Kate or her friend Lucas. In a traditional play, the audience would have to wonder what happens if she decides to go one way or the other; not here. The storyline splits and begins to follow two separate, alternative plots. Playing through this weekend, BTL caught up with Michigan actor Jason Bowen who plays an integral character within one of the two storylines. He filled BTL in on the LGBTQ themes present in “If/Then,” unique challenges in playing his role and how the show hits close to home.
Although the show’s lead isn’t a part of the LGBTQ community, there are definitely ties that BTL’s audience would appreciate. Could you fill us in on what they are?
The show centralizes on a character named Elizabeth. She comes back to New York after quite a few years, she’s recently divorced, wants to start her life over and she connects with two of her friends. One, a female friend who happens to be a lesbian and then her friend Lucas who she had a relationship with in college but is also bisexual. So, the show starts out with the question of ‘What if?’ And we’ve all gone through that in our life where we’ve been presented with a decision and we make our decision but we always wonder, ‘What if?’ What would have happened if I had gone the other direction?
Has the show made you reflect on some “What if?” moments in your own life?
Totally. The whole show, in a nutshell, is very reminiscent of life. Like I said, we all go through situations where we wonder what we should have done or what we could have done better or if we hadn’t have done this, or if we hadn’t have been in that park at that time would we have met that one person? And I actually, I moved to Detroit about five years ago for a job from Chicago. I’m a professional actor and I took a corporate entertainment job here and I met my fiancé here, and if I hadn’t have taken that job, I probably would never have met him. He claims we would have but I don’t feel like our paths would have crossed. So, obviously, moving to Detroit was the best decision for me, you know?
Is this show breaking new ground for you? Had you ever played anything similar before?
As an actor, I’m a musical theater actor so I’m used to comedy and slapstick and tap dancing and I still dance and I do puppetry, but doing a show that’s real that’s also a musical is pretty amazing. My fiancé said, ‘I’ve never really seen you do something where your character is real.’ I’ve done ‘Young Frankenstein’ and things that are fantastical types of shows, but this is the first time that I’ve done something that’s, I would say, more of a challenge. As an actor, you’re always honest under whatever circumstances you’re under and this is probably one of the most realistic circumstances — barring that people break into music and can dance and sing and all that kind of stuff too.
Is it uniquely difficult being in a show where there are varying roles for many of the cast members?
To have everyone in the ensemble playing multiple roles and Lynette, who plays Elizabeth, is phenomenal. You know, it’s the character that Idina Menzel [originally] played, so obviously you know the music is huge and she never leaves the stage. And when she does leave the stage, it’s to change her sweater and she comes right back on. So, being able to have a role in a show like this, to be able to see everyone work together and commit and connect, it’s the reason I do live theater.