Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Jagged Little Pill

There's a lot going on in Jagged Little Pill, which has to be the wokest jukebox musical you're likely to see on Broadway lately. Built around the era-defining third album of the same name by Alanis Morissette, the production departs from the '90s in its setting and aesthetics, even as it remains rooted in women's concerns--and the women's rage that was so fresh and exciting in the pop music world back then. The musical usually works, and even when it doesn't, I can't criticize it too much; like Morissette's album, it's not perfect, but its heart and mind strive to be, and that counts for a lot.

Focused on the Healy family, a comfortable suburban foursome who seem on the surface to have it all, Jagged touches on an impressive host of contemporary social issues in its two-and-a-half hours. Mom Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley) puts on a brave face as she exercises, shops, tidies, and competes with other suburban mothers, but she's got a growing dependency on painkillers following a car accident that took place about a year before the action begins. Her husband Steve (Sean Allan Krill) works all the time, and the two are becoming increasingly estranged. Their golden-child son Nick (Derek Klena) just got into Harvard, but also has no clear sense of his own needs or purpose in the world. Their activist daughter, Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding), was adopted at birth; now a teenager, she has grown tired of her mothers' constant criticism and of feeling like she doesn't belong in suburban Connecticut.

What saves the show from feeling like an overstuffed after-school special are its working parts. There is, of course, a rocking score--and a cast of voices that is consistently able to handle it. The zippy, typically good-humored book, by Diablo Cody, is respectful and serious about the many issues tackled, but never feels preachy or histrionic. There are some excellent performances (Lauren Patton as Jo, Frankie's best friend with benefits, is a huge standout). And mu favorite part of the production were the dance and movement sequences, courtesy of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. I appreciate, as well, just how focused this production is on the desires, relationships, and contradictions of its female characters.

I saw Jagged Little Pill with my teen daughter, who pointed out that its upbeat ending felt a little forced, considering the ocean of issues the characters encounter in what is meant to be a single holiday season. Then again, a musical devoid of hope--especially in these dark times--is a serious breach that I suspect even peak '90s Alanis wouldn't go in for. Ultimately, I appreciate what this production tries to do, how it tries to do it, and how groovy it looks and sounds in the process.

No comments: