By: Isa Goldberg
December 27, 2019: Take the incomprehensibility of everyday life and swallow it whole. That is the confection behind Jagged Little Pill, the new musical based on Alanis Morissette and Glen Ballard’s 1995 concept album of the same title. No spoiler alert there, it’s one of the all-time record-breaking albums.
Like Carole King’s Tapestry, Morissette’s lyrics tell a story from a woman’s perspective, a perspective that is insular, self-reflective, and very personal. In fact, the feelings and experiences Morissette writes about sound so simple and obvious that it pricks one’s ears to hear it sung out loud. For their vulnerability, however, the songs are arresting.
Musically the work draws on punk and grunge rock, messaging socially conscious issues through distorted electric guitar sounds and heavy metal. With arrangements by Tom Kitt, the loudness factor has been thoughtfully mitigated.
And the musical’s soulful sound is a great match for Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s unusual choreography. Most importantly, Diablo Cody’s (Juno) book is true to its source. Here, a cacophony of everyday life takes us down the rabbit hole in suburban Connecticut. Exploding idealized icons, the musical delves into common myths about the nuclear family.
Cody’s characters appear as twisted versions of themselves – a mother (Elizabeth Stanley) addicted to opioids, a son (Derek Klena) identified as Captain America, an adopted African American daughter (Celia Rose Gooding) and a dedicated dad (Sean Allan Krill) who brings home law-abiding bacon. That is his commitment to love and affection. He’s a partner in a law firm, and a flawlessly likeable man, albeit addicted to porn.
Like it or not, the plot turns on a typical contemporary ill, teenage rape. Through that exposure the characters collide, conflating their ethical beliefs with their actual behaviors. Addicted moms and absent dads get their comeuppance, as do idealized young men.
Elizabeth Stanley brings an exquisite voice to her role as the mother. And Sean Allan Krill plays her one-dimensional husband with a single minded urgency that lifts him above the merely banal. Katherine Gallagher’s Bela, the rape victim, bleeds the story for truthfulness more than empathy. Playing the overprivileged son, Derek Klena manages to break the mold, and his sister, portrayed by Celia Rose Gooding, makes sure of it. There is a wonderful diversity of actors on the stage.
As directed by Diane Paulus, the production running more than 2 ½ hours, carries a sense of abandon – shades from her earlier revival of Hair. But the openness of storytelling meets with a more classical vision here. European choreographer, Cherkaoui shapes the dancers moves through contemporary dance styles – hip hop and martial arts – as only a master of ballet can.
Known to American audiences for his Beyonce – Jay Z video, Apes, set in the Louvre Museum, Cherkaoui’s choreography is anything but cliched. It’s a significant element here, in a musical that begs us to see the obviousness of who we have become. To that end, the production is more than a sugar coated pill, or a sappy Mother’s Day card.
Jagged Little Pill ***
235 West. 44th Street, New York City
Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 7:30pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm.
Running time: Two hours and 20 mins,including intermission.
$59—$399. (212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com.
Opened December 5, 2019
Photography: Mathew Murphy