Alanis Morissette’s kind-of-jukebox musical is a marriage of Next to Normal and Be More Chill. It’s LOUD, BRIGHT, often excessive, involves a great many young people, and arrives awash in issues: addiction, parenting, racism, adoption, homophobia, rape. With mostly unmelodic prose-poem-songs shoehorned into situations (Frankie’s writing class objects to her use of “ironic”), lyrics are somewhat general or odd in the mouths of characters. Straight-laced parents in crisis addressing one another as “baby” is an ouch moment. On top of this, lyrics intermittently drown in music (sound- Jonathan Deans).
Director Diane Paulus stakes her reputation on exorbitant theatricality. The multitude of scenes here shift fluidly within moving panels (desks, pews, and a swing set are also on castors). Add constant video (Lucy Mackinnon) – well chosen but an onslaught – banks of painful lighting whenever drama rises (Justin Townsend, purveyor of vertigo), and rarely leaving an intimate moment without distracting, acrobatic dancers, and you have a signature production.
To Paulus’s credit, characters are distinctive and expressive. The company plays one of MJ’s stoned vignettes entirely backward; staging on a swing set/jungle gym is clever; evocation of The East Village is well manifest with street denizens. In two instances, agonized women – emotionally outside themselves – watch dopplegangers suffer.
With all this hampering, the show’s gut intentions remain clear and powerful. Diablo Cody’s book is intelligent, the energetic company invested, leads eminently capable. There’s a deserved mid-act standing ovation for Lauren Patten’s Jo, and the appealing Elizabeth Stanley (Mary Jane Healy), finally gets a lead into which she can sink her teeth. It’s exhausting and abrasive, but mood effectively envelopes.
The story is bookended by MJ’s annual Christmas letter, full of Hallmark good cheer and bragging. Mrs. Healy is a type “A” woman fueled by secret addiction to Oxycontin since her car accident a year ago. She also guards and is affected by a private trauma that dates back further. Considered Wonder Woman, everything must live up to mom’s exacting standards.
Son Nick (sympathetic Derek Klena) is the particular recipient of parental pressure, rising to the occasion – Harvard here we come! – but not without deep toll. Adopted black daughter, Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding in a terrible wig), is an activist and clandestine lesbian frustrated by MJ’s blinders. Husband Steve (an excellent Sean Allan Krill) is increasingly workaholic in response to his wife’s having turned away. He presses for marriage counseling to no avail.
Other featured characters include Frankie’s aforementioned girlfriend, Jo (Lauren Patten who visibly walks the walk), her incipient boyfriend Phoenix (a credible Antonio Cipriano), and abuse victim, Bella (Kathryn Gallagher).
We see the spiraling seedy side of MJ’s addiction, Frankie’s wish her mother DID see color (and deal with it), a wild party ending in rape, internet bullying, student demonstrations, the choice of conscience or reputation, loss of virginity, running away from home, friendship, reprieve. Whew! Dancing is skilled; voices are strong, clear pop.
Movement Director/Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui offers sinuous, gymnastic originality.
Riccardo Hernandez’s set design is imaginatively tailored to the aesthetics and frenzied mood of the story. Costumes by Emily Rebholz reveal much more skin than most schools allow, but otherwise suit. Wigs by J. Jared Janas are notably false looking.
Photos by Matthew Murphy
Opening: Celia Rose Gooding, Derek Klena, Elizabeth Stanley, Sean Allan Krill
Jagged Little Pill
Music-Alanis Morissette, Glen Ballard
Additional Music-Michael Farrell, Guy Sigsworth
Directed by Diane Paulus
235 West 44th Street