Steve (Sean Allan Krill) is a workaholic and a porn addict. Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley) is hooked on opioids. Their daughter Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding), a black bi-sexual, is trying to reconcile her self worth and identity. Their Harvard bound son, Nick (Derek Klena) is pressured to be the ideal kid while he harbors a reputation-ruining secret.
Life is hard for the Healys in the new Broadway musical, Jagged Little Pill. In fact, it’s tough for nearly everyone in this jukebox tuner that packs more problems into one show than most people face in a lifetime.
Barely a stone is left unturned in this story based on the incredibly successful 1996 album of the same name by Candian artist Alanis Morisette. This was years before climate change, the opioid crisis, the #metoo movement, and gun control made daily headlines.
At first blush, it might seem to be overload. Yet book writer Diablo Cody has managed to weave a generally focused narrative that binds all of the angst, agita, and awe that teenage years can bring. She’s also expanded her scope to include the pressures of adulthood. It’s a smart choice. Other musicals (Be More Chill, The Lightning Thief, & Mean Girls) of late have attempted the same formula to a much less successful degree. Thanks to Morrisette’s lyrics and Cody’s storytelling, Pill draws in the audience, much like Dear Evan Hansen and Next to Normal, two shows that also take a deep dive into the malaise of suburban living. At times, the dialogue feels forced and scripted from an ABC Afterschool special, giving us the feeling that we’ve just heard a sermon. Fortunately, those moments are infrequent and overall, Cody has captured the pressures of contemporary living. While we may not recognize ourselves in these characters, we undoubtedly know people like them.
But let’s be honest: Who among us hasn’t been burned by love like Jo (Lauren Patten), the scorned ex-lover to Frankie who scorches the Broadhurst theater with a show-stopping rendition of “You Oughta Know”? It’s an anthem that many of us have either screamed into our home mirrors after a bad break-up or sung after one too many vodka tonics at a Korean Karaoke bar. Patten is a relative newcomer to the Broadway stage, but she has made one helluva lasting impression. Her number is so wrought with emotion and vocal acuity that producers have built-in the amount of applause and standing ovations she receives into the running time of the show. If that’s not star power, I’m not sure what is.
Elizabeth Stanley is another stand-out as the self-described, “bitch from Connecticut.” Stanley perfectly embodies the matriarchal, Type-A personality who is trying her best to hold it together while battling her own demons. Vocally, she is in top form and captures the nervous tics of a drug addict. Her most poignant moment comes during “Forgiven”, a song of redemption that closes the first act.
Director Diane Paulus keeps a tight reign on her show. Much like she did with Waitress, she knows when to kick the emotional throttle into overdrive and when to simply let cruise control do the work.
Music Supervisor, Orchestrator, and Arranger Tom Kitt has maintained the driving, accelerated sound created for Morrissette’s original album, while at the same giving us full, rich harmonies in group numbers. Music Director and conductor Bryan Perri leads an all-star orchestra.
Riccardo Hernandez‘s sparse but effective set design is well complemented by Justin Townsend‘s rock concert style lighting design and Lucy Mackinnon‘s vibrant projections.
Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherakaoui infuses jerky, addled movement which is equal parts mesmerizing and haunting.
If Jagged Little Pill seems like a lot, it is. Then again, so is real life. Like the Healys, we each have constant struggles to address. But as Morrissette wrote, “all we really want is deliverance.” For two and a half hours in a dark theater, our wish is fulfilled.
Jagged Little Pill is on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre (44th St. between Broadway and 8th). For tickets and information, visit www.jaggedlittlepill.com