TODAY'S PAPER
45° Good Afternoon
45° Good Afternoon
EntertainmentTheater

'Jagged Little Pill' review: Musical packs a dramatic punch

Elizabeth Stanley plays Mary Jane, a pill-popping mom,

Elizabeth Stanley plays Mary Jane, a pill-popping mom, in the new musical "Jagged Little Pill." Credit: Matthew Murphy

WHAT "Jagged Little Pill"

WHERE Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St.

INFO $59-$179; 212-239-6200, telecharge.com

BOTTOM LINE A cross-generational crowd-pleaser inspired by Alanis Morissette's '90s-defining album.

If you're old enough to remember the last great decade of rock and roll, you probably remember Alanis Morissette's 1995 album "Jagged Little Pill." A cri de coeur from a Canadian pop singer barely in her 20s, the album lashed out at condescending males, self-involved parents and a hidebound society. With its grungy yet glossy production, "Jagged Little Pill" became a chart-topping, Grammy-winning smash and a '90s landmark, as totemic as anything from Nirvana or Oasis.

Now that it's a Broadway musical, you might rightfully wonder: Aside from nostalgia, does this nearly 25-year-old album have anything to offer today?

You'd be surprised. "Jagged Little Pill" is no blast-from-the-past jukebox musical but an urgent, rock-driven slice of modern life that tackles nearly every issue of the day: sexual identity, opioid addiction, racial tension, rape. As its writer, Oscar winner Diablo Cody ("Juno"), has readily admitted, just about anything with a hashtag is in here. What makes "Jagged Little Pill" work so well is its multigenerational storyline, a self-aware sense of humor and Morissette's surprisingly sturdy songs. (The production includes selections from other albums and two new numbers by Morissette.)

Our heroes are the Healys, an updated version of the postwar, white-bread family: Stay-at-home mom Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley, the show's shining star), workaholic dad Steve (Sean Allan Krill), Harvard-bound son Nick (Derek Klena) and adopted African-American daughter Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding). They're straight out of a 1950s Douglas Sirk melodrama: Underneath the happy veneer, Mary Jane pops pills, sex-starved Steve surfs for porn and Frankie secretly divides her sexual attention between tomboyish Jo (an excellent Lauren Patten) and a sensitive boy named Phoenix (an appealing Antonio Cipriano in his Broadway debut). As for perfect Nick, he may have been involved in the rape of a classmate, Bella (Kathryn Gallagher).

That's a lot to pack into one musical, but "Jagged Little Pill," directed by Diane Paulus, never feels overstuffed. As the various dramas unfold, Morissette's veins-open lyrics are refashioned in clever ways: "So Unsexy," a ballad of adolescent insecurity, is sung by middle-aged Steve, while jealous Jo flips the gender pronouns in the barnburner "You Oughta Know." (Morissette fans will catch a few in-jokes here and there, including a self-mocking version of the famously mistitled "Ironic.") Meanwhile, a troupe of ultra-diverse dancers, choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, reflect the characters' inner turmoil.

"Jagged Little Pill" can be almost overwhelmingly topical. It isn't just of the moment, it's of the millisecond. Yet in the end, a familiar picture emerges, that of two generations struggling to understand each other. A lyric from "All I Really Want," the first track on Morissette's still-relevant album, might sum it up best: "And all I really want is some peace man / A place to find a common ground."

Comments

We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

More Entertainment