The world is in crisis. Jagged Little Pill is on it.
Gun violence? “Fear has no place in our schools,” an onstage placard reads. Climate change? Name-checked in another sign. Rape? The musical dramatizes an attack via metaphorical modern dance. Opioid addiction? The show’s matriarch buys and pops down black market Oxycodone, a scene played out forward and in reverse.
Ripped from a hundred headlines, Jagged Little Pill is inspired by Alanis Morissette’s bestselling 1995 album of angsty anthems, which includes themes familiar to adolescent girls and young women, from heartless cads to alienation and abuse. Screenwriter Diablo Cody’s updated and inclusive book primarily aims to debunk the notion of domestic tranquility. Or as articulated by a new boy at school named Phoenix (Antonio Cipriano), who has an offstage sister “with a lot of medical issues:” “I have this theory that happy families only exist in orange juice commercials and Utah.”
Jagged ‘s family is the Healys of Connecticut. When we meet the competitive, Soul-Cycling mom, Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley), she’s writing her annual Christmas letter, boasting about the acceptance of son Nick (Derek Klena) at Harvard and the promotion of husband Steve (Sean Allan Krill) to partner at his law firm.
Nick turns out be tortured under the pressure exerted by his achievement-obsessed parents. Steve is so busy billing (and watching online porn) that he’s never home. And misunderstood adopted teenage daughter, Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding), eventually runs away to Manhattan’s East Village, where she encounters shiny glass towers and buskers at every corner.
The musical’s ensemble, with sleeveless tops, flannel outfits and cornrow ‘dos, suggests the tribe from Hair as revived by an acting conservatory in the Pacific Northwest. Director Diane Paulus (who staged the Tony-Award-winning 2009 revival of Hair ) keeps the show in motion, the intertwined narrative dominated by a school rape as well as mom’s opioid addiction following a car accident. It’s a television season’s worth of story compressed into the hour or so that isn’t taken up with Morissette’s two dozen songs (many co-written by Glen Ballard).
That’s a lot of Morissette for fans to enjoy, beautifully orchestrated by Tom Kitt. The audience goes nuts over the conspicuous catharsis of “You Oughta to Know,” sung by Lauren Patten, who plays a girlfriend dumped by Frankie. The breakout star, however, is Gooding, a non-showy virtuoso who’s the daughter of Tony-winner LaChanze. Gooding’s songs with Cipriano — “Ironic,” “Head Over Feet” and “That I Would be Good,” are sweetly evocative of teenage life and love and come closest to fulfilling the promise of this appealing mess of a musical.