I didn’t know quite what to expect from ”Jagged Little Pill,” the show based on the 1995 hit album by Alanis Morissette, who wrote the music and lyrics capturing the angst and lives of young people for whom the songs rang a bell. Lo and behold, it turns out that the show, an American Repertory Theater production, is a terrific entertainment, with much to say about a host of subjects. It is spectacular to watch, often very funny and sometimes moving. The cast is phenomenal and the staging under the direction of Diane Paulus is a knockout. The lyrics are by Morissette and the music is by her and Glen Ballard, with added music by Michael Farrell and Guy Sigsworth.
Before I get into the songs and the book by Oscar-winner Diablo Cody, praise is in order for the overall staging. The glitzy scenic design by Riccardo Hernández, with huge panels that move about relentlessly, the extensive use of projection (video design by Lucy Mackinnon), the dynamic lighting (design by Justin Townsend), the ear-challenging sound (design by Jonathan Deans) and the variety of costumes (Emily Rebholz) give the production enormous oomph. The often-on- stage orchestra generates more heat, with music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements by Tom Kitt.
Morissette’s pop-rock music is not my style but provides the right impact for the material, and the lyrics when they come through clearly amid the mayhem are often clever and on occasion moving. There is a large supporting cast of singers and dancers (Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is movement director and choreographer) and the mass numbers are energetic and rousing.
The story effectively encompasses many subjects worth attention—marriage, parenting, race, bisexuality, rape, and playing a big part, drug addiction. There are demonstrations with provocative placards to promote causes. Remarkably, although “Jagged Little Pill” could qualify as a jukebox musical, it bursts forth as if freshly original with the songs fitting the story and emotions without seeming as if they were tossed in.
At the center is the upscale Healy family in Connecticut. Mary Jane Healy is the wife and mom and frames the story. She is played by Elizabeth Stanley, whose strong and touching performance certainly merits award consideration. Mary Jane is a bundle of nerves, increasingly despondent and harbors a past secret. She also has a current secret--she has descended into an increasingly dangerous drug habit that nobody recognizes, a plot aspect that fits current concerns about the national opioids crisis.
But Mary Jane can also be feisty and amusing, with her personality reflected in Stanley’s appealing singing, as in such numbers as “Smiling,” “Forgiven” and "Uninvited,” as well as in her duet “So Unsexy” and “Not the Doctor” with Mary Jane’s husband, Steve.
Played with charm, anger and perplexity by Sean Allan Krill, Steve works long hours and he and Mary Jane have become increasingly estranged. They go to a marriage counselor, and as serious as their bickering becomes, there is also humor in the scrapping.
The Healys have two children, Nick (Derek Klena), who has just been notified that he is being admitted into Harvard. He knows more than he has told about a high school party rape. His sister Frankie, 16, is a rebellious adopted African-American girl with bisexual feelings, partly for Jo (Lauren Patten) and also for Phoenix (Antonio Cippriano), with whom she has been smitten. Patten as Jo delivers a number, “You Oughta Know,” which is likely to earn an ovation at every performance.
The rape plays a big part, as efforts are made to secure Justice for the victim, Bella (Kathryn Gallagher), who struggles to have people believe what happened to her in an example of how the perpetrator is more trusted than the victim. Although appreciative, Bella is also angry and resentful after Nick bravely tells what he has seen because she notes that even when justice is served it is a man who becomes the hero, being believed when she, a woman wasn’t. Gallagher makes the most of Bella’s moving song “No.”
Much more is contained in the production that runs 2 hours and 35 minutes with an intermission. “Jagged Little Pill” establishes itself as a bright, accomplished new Broadway musical that hits it mark with thought-provoking, meaningful entertainment. At the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed December 13, 2019.