By Meredith Ganzman
Everything’s there in the new musical Jagged Little Pill, featuring the award-winning music of Alanis Morissette. Troubled characters, a slew of the singer-songwriter’s singles – 23 to be exact – and a topical story ripe with relevant issues. And even with all that, the musical is completely empty, unimpactful and formulaic. Isn’t that ironic?
This time Broadway’s newest jukebox offering is about the quintessential Connecticut family, the Healys. Dad Steve (Sean Allan Krill) is a successful attorney. Stay-at-home mom Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley) is a Soul-Cycle-obsessed perfectionist – so perfect she was up making quiche for her family the day after a major car accident. Son Nick, or Saint Nick (Derek Klena) as his swim teammates call him, just got into Harvard University. And daughter Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding) is a high school activist.
But that’s just how they appear on their Christmas card. Mary Jane is struggling with a pain killer addiction from her accident. Sean sees his marriage crumbling but feels helpless to fix things. Nick bears witness to his friend, Bella (Kathryn Gallagher), being raped at a house party but does nothing to help her. And Frankie, who is African American and was adopted by her white family when she was a baby, is coming to grips with both her sexual and racial identity.
For Alanis Morisette fans – don’t worry, you’ll hear her hits. Notably Frankie’s lesbian friend (maybe more than just a friend) Jo (Lauren Patten) leads a few. In “Hand in My Pocket” she explains being out and coping with her mother, who doesn’t accept her and tries suggested church conversion therapy and practically forces her to wear a pink Peterpan collar cardigan. And then the 16-year-old uncomfortably rages through the eleven o’clock number “You Oughta Know,” telling Frankie how she betrayed her.
But no matter how loudly the cast belts out Morissette’s music, whatever message this show, a transfer from the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is supposed to have, falls flat. This is mostly at the hands of an overt and rambling book by Academy Award-winning “Juno” screenwriter Diabo Cody. Though Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus (Waitress, Pippin) does little to finesse the overstuffed and clunky story. And Tom Kitt’s orchestrations and arrangements are just awkward and choppy, more often than not obscuring Morissette’s melodies. Even regular Beyoncé collaborator, choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, repeats himself with the same mirroring device in two different songs not far apart from each other in Act II.
At nearly three hours, Jagged Little Pill is pretty painful. For some, Morrisette’s musical may be nostalgic. That’s not enough for a story that’s little more than a less interesting and nuanced Next to Normal. Despite how smart the cast and creatives likely think their work is, they are clearly oblivious to how hard they are hitting the audience over the head, over and over again, with brazen preachiness. Times are tough and people live in fear and often suffer alone. You should know- we get it! Audiences deserve so much better.
I left the theater shaking my head and longing for an aspirin.
Photos: Matthew Murphy
Jagged Little Pill is playing at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street. Running time 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission.