By Lucy Komisar
This is a terrific pop/rock morality tale, a soap opera musical for teens to help them understand their parents. Not bad for parents either. It‘s based on the music of Alanis Morrisette, with a book by Diablo Cody and smart direction by Diane Paulus.
It‘s a mix of a few terrific professionals and very good all around musical theater actors. Especially my favorite, Celia Rose Gooding as Frankie, who gets into your blood and is hard to forget.
And this is from a critic who doesn‘t much like pop music and teenage angst shows! But the saving grace is the politics of class and race.
The story revolves around the upper middle class Healeys in Connecticut. Dad, Steve (Sean Allan Krill), is a corporate. Frankie, 16, is black and adopted. She is an angry radical. Her friend Jo (Lauren Patten) doesn‘t like the classmates who care about more clothes and boys. She is a lesbian. Protest signs say “no justice no peace” “my body my choice” “don‘t be a fossil fuel fool.”
Son Nick (Derek Klena) has been accepted at Harvard. Dad is wearing a Harvard dad shirt. So, radical girl and boy to Harvard. Is this a satire?
But it‘s also serious. Mom, Mary Jane Healey (Elizabeth Stanley), had an auto accident, was put on painkillers, and got hooked on Oxycontin fentanyl. The family pharmacist won‘t refill prescriptions, so she goes to the street. A middle-class Connecticut lady with a drug connection. That‘s the jagged little pill.
So, this is a political play for the protest generation and very current.
The issues include a rape. A high school girl gets drunk at a party, passes out, and is raped by a student from a prominent family whose patriarch is commemorated in a statue downtown. Kathryn Gallagher is terrific as Bella, the distraught victim, her face painting the expressions of a woman destroyed.
Mary Jane reflects class prejudice: If someone drink into oblivion these things could happen.” The Connecticut kids drink a lot. But this is a pill popper talking. And it turns out that Nick saw the rape happening and didn‘t stop it. Mary Jane doesn‘t want him to tell.
There‘s a powerful anti-rape rally with signs that say “We believe Bella,” “End rape culture” and “˜What part of no do you not understand?”
There is also some soap opera stuff about Mary Jane not sleeping with her husband who describes himself as “a beagle under the table begging for scraps and getting kicked in the head.” He‘s working 60 hours a week so he can provide. Projections of the commuter train. I find that part and its dialogue insipid and trite.
We get some suburban moms, a spinning class. The story turns hokey. But there are real issues. The rape. Jo the lesbian not being accepted. The moral choices – failed – by the guy about to get into Harvard, where we all know corruption is rewarded.
The sounds are good. Mary Jane‘s voice moves between warm and cool, soft-tough, high strung. Frankie is more typically jazzy, R&B.
There is good pop rock acrobatic disco dancing, with smashing choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. And video by Lucy Mackinnon that replaces what we used to think of as sets.
As “juke box” musicals go, it’s a winner.
“Jagged Little Pill.” Lyrics by Alanis Morissette, music by Alanis Morissette & Glen Ballard, book by Diablo Cody, directed by Diane Paulus. Broadhurst Theatre 235 W 44th St., New York City. 212-239-6200. Opened Dec 5, 2019. 2hrs30. 2/5/20. Also on NY Theatre Wire.