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NY Theater Reviews

Lauren Patten and Company/ Ph: Matthew Murphy

SIDE EFFECTS

By JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ

The Alanis Morissette jukebox musical features vibrant performances, but other issues drag it down. 

A dose of Jagged Little Pill, the Alanis Morissette jukebox musical on Broadway about a dysfunctional American family, delivers desirable jolts to the head and heart thanks to vibrant performances and hits like “Ironic,” “Head Over Feet” and “Hand in My Pocket,” songs that have been capably threaded into storylines.

But this Pill also produces unwanted side effects. At the Broadhurst Theatre, home of the musical drawn from the Canadian singer-songwriter’s angsty megahit 1995 album, they include but are not limited to: Prolonged itching for a focused, impactful plot; dulled senses from familiar situations and characters; and ear strain due to efforts to comprehend drowned-out lyrics. Is there a script doctor in the house?

Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning Juno screenwriter, tackles a tall order in her Broadway debut. Serious musicals are tricky business – and her knotty narrative gets more serious by the minute. Unlike Next to Normal, which had a clearer focus – the toll of a woman’s mental illness on her and her family – Cody spreads hot-button issues on very thick in her story of the addled Healy family.

Mom, Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley), is obsessed with perfection, addicted to opioids (she has a street dealer on speed dial) and haunted by a past trauma. She’s a lot. Dad, Steve (Sean Allan Krill), is an absentee workaholic and porn aficionado. Son, Nick (Derek Klena), is a Harvard-bound golden boy lacking a shiny moral compass. Daughter, Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding), who’s black and adopted, is juggling two issues – race and sexuality. On one hand, she’s into Jo (Lauren Patten), a lesbian with a religious mom straight from Carrie, and on the other, it’s Phoenix (Antonio Cipriano), a boy with good hair and compassion to match. Bella (Kathryn Gallagher) is a rape victim, whose assault involves the whole Healy family.

Director Diane Paulus (Pippin, Waitress) and the design team wrap all that up in a world where homes literally pull apart, lights glare and clothes are as shredded as psyches. If songs from the album by Morissette and Glen Ballard and some new music, all arranged by Tom Kitt, don’t quite deliver the rocking edginess of the 24-year-old original – and they don’t – a bigger issue is lyrics getting obscured. The staging is too busy for its own good. Paulus’ go-to move is an ever-present ensemble, whose Playbill bios come with gender pronouns, that leads to diminishing returns.  

Through it all, the cast shines. Gooding brings depth and heart as conflicted Frankie. Cipriano charms and makes the small role of Phoenix rise up and loom large. Patten, with two plum assignments, brings breezy nonchalance to “Hand in My Pocket” and unleashed fury to “You Oughta Know.” As great as she is on the latter song, the number typifies a nagging issue. She begins standing stock still, and that’s when the song is at peak power. By the end, she and the company are all writhing all over the place. You oughta know – and so should the creators of Jagged Little Pill – that less can be more.