A New York Theatre Guide to... Jagged Little Pill!
Here's all you need to know about the new, original Alanis Morissette-infused musical...
Released in June 1995, “Jagged Little Pill” made a household name of Alanis Morissette, earning her the title of the best-selling international debut artist in history (as well as five Grammy Award wins)! Now, over two decades later, that same album is the inspiration for a new Broadway musical and we’ve fallen “Head Over Feet” for it! Following a record-breaking, out-of-town try-out at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the summer of 2018, Jagged Little Pill began previews at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway on November 3, 2019, ahead of an official opening on December 5. And it’s raw, edgy, topical, and by no means difficult to swallow...
What’s it all about?
Unlike the current biographical musicals of Tina and Ain’t Too Proud, which tell the stories of Tina Turner and The Temptations, respectively, or the upcoming MJ The Musical (revolving around Michael Jackson), Jagged Little Pill is not a bio-musical about Alanis Morissette. Rather it tells the original story of The Healys; a family in crisis. Set in Connecticut in suburban heaven (or hell?), we meet Mary Jane (aka MJ), her husband Steve, her star pupil son Nick (who has just been accepted to Harvard), and her adopted black daughter Frankie. The picture-perfect family, however, might not be as squeaky-clean as it seems and soon the cracks begin to show... As MJ’s addiction to pain killer medication spins out of control and her estranged relationship to ‘workaholic’ Steve deteriorates even further, Frankie has to deal with her own racial identity crisis (as well as a tricky love triangle between her best friend/lesbian lover Jo and new boy at the school, Phoenix) and Nick witnesses the rape of his schoolmate Bella, failing to intervene and sending him cascading into a world of guilt. As The Healys begin to accept that life doesn’t always have to be perfect, they must look to each other to heal the wounds that threaten to tear them all apart.
Who’s starring in it?
Almost the entire principal cast of Jagged Little Pill has been together since the 2017 workshop of the musical and they all originated their respective roles at the American Repertory Theater in 2018. Elizabeth Stanley, whose previous Broadway credits include On the Town, Million Dollar Quartet, Cry Baby, and Company, stars as Mary Jane Healy. Anastasia heartthrob Derek Klena takes on the role of Nick, whilst Celia Rose Gooding makes a formidable Broadway debut as Frankie. Stage veteran Sean Allan Krill rounds out the Healy family as Steve. Kathryn Gallagher, who previously made her Broadway debut in the 2015 revival of Spring Awakening, plays Bella, whilst Lauren Patten, who has previously impressed audiences in both Fun Home and The Wolves, packs a punch as Jo.
What’s special about this production?
Similar to the smash hit musical Come From Away, Jagged Little Pill also triumphs as a true ensemble piece. Although initially perhaps intended as a star vehicle for one Idina Menzel, it has evolved to become a showcase for a number of gifted performers. Yes, there are quite a handful of story arcs in Academy Award winner Cody Diablo’s book, but the “Juno” writer has structured the narrative masterfully and each arc gets generous time to play out on the stage, as they weave between each other. Perhaps even more impressive is how she has ensured that Alanis Morissette’s infectious back catalogue of hits never feel forced unnecessarily or implausibly into the narrative. And speaking of the hits, there is an air of nostalgia in the Broadhurst Theatre. Many of us were deeply impacted by the “Jagged Little Pill” album back in the 1990s and one gets the sense that many audience members bring their own memories and associations with Morissette’s work into the theatre with them. The emotional reaction to certain musical numbers is palpable. And it’s not just the JLP album tracks that have made the cut – other Alanis songs such as “Hands Clean,” “That I Would Be Good,” “Uninvited,” and “Thank U” also play major roles in the musical. Oh, and Tom Kitt’s arrangements and orchestrations are simply divine!
I would like to give special mentions to Elizabeth Stanley and Kathryn Gallagher who tackle the more traumatic elements of the story as true pros and to Lauren Patten, who steals the show with her raw and all-consuming rendition of “You Oughta Know” that brought the audience to a standing ovation the night I attended. And hats off to director Diane Paulus and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui whose ingenious staging transports us swiftly to a vast variety of Connecticut and New York settings with constant movement and dance that transform the production into a living, breathing organism. The interpretive dance sequences (kudos to ensemble member Heather Lang) during the gut-wrenching addiction or rape scenes are particularly poignant.
Who would we recommend it to?
We believe Jagged Little Pill has multi-generational appeal thanks to the multitude of topical issues it explores. Each audience member is likely to relate to at least one of the characters on stage, whether a parent figure or teenager. Due to the production’s adult content, we’d give an age recommendation of 16+ and those riding the current social wave of gender and sexual fluidity or the #MeToo movement will find the show’s themes especially appealing. It also goes without saying that Morissette aficionados themselves are likely to be crying “Thank U” for years to come!
Jagged Little Pill Tickets are available now for performances through July 5, 2020.
(Photos by Matthew Murphy)