More social issues are addressed in “Jagged Little Pill” than at a Democratic presidential debate.
Opioid addiction, race, bisexuality, sexual assault — the Alanis Morissette musical, which opened Thursday night on Broadway, has got ’em all. But, like trying to shove Elizabeth Warren’s entire platform into a single evening, nearly every topic gets short shrift.
An adopted black daughter’s frustration with her white family is given about a scene and a half. Next! A crumbling marriage is allowed little more than a small therapy sequence. Hurry up — we gotta whoosh to the girl coming out to her parents as bi for all of 10 seconds. The overflowing buffet of controversial subjects borders on ludicrous.
But there are two shows here: an unwieldy story of a picture-perfect Connecticut family struggling to conceal a litany of problems, and a musical filled with fabulous numbers. “Jagged Little Pill” boasts the best cast of singers now on Broadway, all of whom fiercely embrace the rage, angst and bluntness of Morissette’s 1995 album. You won’t really care why Lauren Patten’s Jo sings the anthem “You Oughta Know,” but you’ll be very glad she did.
Although Jo owns what is easily the strongest moment of the show, she isn’t the main character. That would be Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley), better known as MJ, the hot-yoga-loving wife of Steve (Sean Allan Krill) and mother of high schoolers Nick (Derek Klena) and Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding).
MJ was recently in a car crash, but as she writes in her annual Christmas letter, “My car may be totaled, but you can’t total Mary Jane Healy.” Don’t be so sure: Her injuries left her with a crippling addiction. Doctors won’t re-up her prescription, so she buys pills from a dealer in an alleyway.
Nick, meanwhile, has just been accepted into Harvard, yet resents being loved for his success. His sister, Frankie, is secretly snogging her BFF, Jo, but soon falls for Phoenix (Antonio Cipriano), a guy. Their dad, Steve, gets the least compelling storyline: He and MJ haven’t had sex in a year, and he’s putting all that energy into work and internet porn. So much for Act 1: The second act is mostly about sexual assault, and can resemble an informative high school assembly.
Although Diablo Cody gives the actors cinder-block-to-the-head material, they perform it all genuinely and with passion. That’s especially true of Stanley, who conveys enormous strength even as her MJ becomes so weak.
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