Jagged Little Pill review – Alanis musical hits Broadway with a bang

Broadhurst Theatre, New York

Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody has brought Alanis Morissette’s music to the stage with a contrived yet hugely entertaining show

When Alanis Morissette released Jagged Little Pill in 1995, critics and rock fans complained, with more and less chauvinism, that the album and its singer were too angry, too shrill, too lame, too loud, too immature, too fake. Jagged Little Pill, the new Broadway musical, which superimposes the album’s songs on to an overwrought story of suburban ennui, should be liable to a lot of that same criticism.

But turn that record over. On Broadway, Jagged Little Pill harnesses the hyperemotionalism of its source to shake off the cynicism and formulaic strictures of the typical jukebox musical. Yes, its plot is shaky and contrived, its songs – and there are so, so many of them – histrionic. It seizes on enough hot-button issues – sexual assault, the opioid epidemic, internet addiction, workaholism, misogyny, sex and gender identity, and OK, sure, gun violence, too – to singe the first row. It is, indisputably, too much and that too muchness is what makes it so watchable.

Morissette signed over the rights to the songs with a proviso: the producers couldn’t create a bio musical, her story was her own. Eventually, screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno, Tully), who is, like Morissette, a Catholic girl who broke at least a little bad, invented a fictional narrative that would fit the songs. Somewhere in Connecticut lives the Healy family: tightly wound mom MJ (Elizabeth Stanley), workaholic dad Steve (Sean Alan Krill), golden boy son Nick (Derek Klena) and mildly rebellious adopted daughter Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding), who is African American and distrustful of MJ’s chirpy, Instagram-filtered ways. MJ has her own problems. (everyone in this show has problems, even the supporting characters.) A car accident has left her with an addiction to pain pills and triggered memories of an earlier sexual trauma.

Elizabeth Stanley and company of Jagged Little Pill.
Elizabeth Stanley and company of Jagged Little Pill. Photograph: Matthew Murphy

The musical never really settles down to a central subject or a main character, but under Diane Paulus’s vigorous, unsubtle direction it happens so fast and for the most part so fluidly (the set by Ricardo Hernández, with video design by Lucy Mackinnon mostly consists of shifting screens) that it hardly matters. Cody’s script is rich in mildly snarky one-liners – “I have this theory that happy families only exist in orange juice commercials and Utah,” “Your mom is iconic! She’s one salad away from a psychotic break.” The acting is largely strong, particularly Stanley’s brittle, wounded MJ and Lauren Patten, who gives a breakout performance as Jo, Frankie’s sometime girlfriend. She does a combustible, wrenching rendition of You Oughta Know that vaults the screaming audience to its collective feet. Some songs, such as No, from Morissette’s 2012 album, feel extremely apropos, while others, such as So Unsexy and Not the Doctor, slot in less gracefully. Ironic is repurposed as a classroom performance poem. One new song, Smiling, seems unnecessary. Another, Predator, is almost uncomfortably apt.

But the musical, you will quickly discover, isn’t about any one song, story or theme. It’s a mood piece and that mood is largely adolescent. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Adolescence is the last time most of us will feel things so keenly, will want things so badly, will need so desperately to feel seen and understood. It is a musical reaching toward the misunderstood teenager in all of us. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s athletic, angsty choreography exemplifies this best, asking the chorus to dance as though in the thrall of emotions beyond control. (You can wonder what all of these teens are doing writhing in a well-appointed Connecticut living room, but go with it.) The noisy, outsized unruly feelings that sometimes seemed too big for the album fill a Broadway theater just fine. Ironic, don’t you think?


Alexis Soloski

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Alanis Morissette: Jagged Little Pill – the musical!
Can’t imagine what the libretto for a show based on the singer’s seminal 1995 album might be like? Wonder no more

Peter Robinson

04, Jul, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Alanis Morissette working on musical of Jagged Little Pill
The Canadian singer will be the next to turn a bestselling album in a jukebox musical following the likes of Green Day, writes Matt Trueman

Matt Trueman

11, Nov, 2013 @10:53 AM

Article image
Jagged Little Pill review – Alanis Morissette musical has moments of silliness and transcendence
Diablo Cody’s exploration of trauma tackles more social issues than it can fairly balance but when You Oughta Know kicks in, all is forgiven

Cassie Tongue

10, Dec, 2021 @1:23 AM

Article image
SpongeBob Squarepants: The Broadway Musical review – sugar-shock visual pleasure
An eclectic selection of original songs, written by everyone from John Legend to Aerosmith, meshes awkwardly with vibrant production design in this entertaining yet forgettable musical

Alexis Soloski

05, Dec, 2017 @3:00 AM

Article image
Little Did I Know: how a Broadway-aiming musical became a hit podcast
An accomplished group of creatives have turned a splashy musical into a new podcast at a time when theater fans need it the most

Alexis Soloski

14, Apr, 2020 @3:17 PM

Article image
Michael Jackson musical to hit Broadway in 2020
A stage show about the King of Pop’s life featuring the biggest hits from his catalogue is now in development

Jake Nevins

19, Jun, 2018 @3:35 PM

Article image
The Cher Show review – Broadway musical is a mixed bag of pop excess
A jukebox ode to the megastar contains some dazzling numbers but suffers from some clumsy storytelling

Alexis Soloski

04, Dec, 2018 @2:00 AM

Article image
King Kong review – Broadway kills the beast in monstrously bad musical
Despite the spectacle of a 2,400lb puppet, a shambolic production doesn’t know what to do with him and any magic quickly evaporates

Alexis Soloski

09, Nov, 2018 @3:00 AM

Article image
Choir Boy review – Tarell Alvin McCraney hits high notes on Broadway
The Oscar-winning Moonlight writer transfers his musical to a bigger venue and, while there are missteps, the songs bring the house down

Alexis Soloski

09, Jan, 2019 @2:00 AM

Article image
Mean Girls review – Tina Fey's comedy hits Broadway with a soft landing
The stage adaptation of the hit teen film is a jubilant watch but the songs aren’t quite as catchy as they should be and there’s a mean streak missing

Alexis Soloski

09, Apr, 2018 @2:00 AM