Jagged Little Pill - non-spoiler review by Kevin Lasit
Updated: Jun 20, 2020
Whenever I hear about a new musical being produced with a plot based around pop music, a superhero, a cartoon, or a hit movie… I cringe. Why can’t they just let it be and create something totally original, and daring that speaks to today’s audience? I mean, it’s not like we don’t live in a world lacking in fallen heroes, or have kids killing kids, have a divided country, or women being abused while trying to advance in their careers. Hell… there is a cornucopia of issues to talk about, but sadly, the powers that be still try to bring what’s hot on television and the movies to Broadway. Thankfully, SpongeBob SquarePants was short lived on Broadway, but will King Kong triumph and reign over New York, or will all its spectacle plummet into oblivion? Julie Taymor, Bono, and The Edge from U2, couldn’t save Spiderman - Turn off the Dark. And the $20 million dollar, Rocky the Musical, with its 28 previews and 188 performances, went down in an embarrassing TKO. What a waste of money, time, and talent. I guess I’m old school. My thinking is: If you are going to spend any amount of time and serious money to create something, make something with impact and that will live on for decades. But that, of course, takes serious effort and intention to invest in. Most things today that are released in entertainment are simply to make as much money as quick as it took to create them, and then get out. It feels like dark times for entertainment.
But every now and then, something breaks through all the darkness and proves, once again, that some people actually do care about what they are putting out into the world. Creative minds collaborate so cohesively, that the piece they are working on takes a life of its own, finding and speaking to its audience. This is what it is like to experience the new musical, Jagged Little Pill (#jaggedlittlepillart.)
The musical is based on Alanis Morissette’s 1995 album of the same title, and it works on so many levels. I have to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much when we went to the preview at the American Repertory Theatre in Boston this summer. I have always enjoyed Alanis’s music and still have her CD, which brings back so many memories, but still, a musical based on her album? Then something happened as soon as the musical started… relentless clarity.
It was extremely apparent the creators of this powerful and electric production knew what they would address. I call this production the anthem for the American family. Everyone needs to experience this production. Everyone! Alanis Morissette’s music is, of course, the driving force, but the book, by Diablo Cody, was crafted with such focus and heart; at times it feels like we, the audience, are ease dropping on private family conversations. The additional music by Michael Farrell & Guy Sigsworth is the perfect theatrical touch which merges the show seamlessly together, hauntingly leaving you breathless, collapsed in your seat from the vulnerable truth of it all. Alanis is an amazing storyteller and her music has always painted a clear picture, setting an intense atmosphere, but when her music compliments a clear and relevant story, it grows into something larger, but it doesn’t end there. Everything else is working flawlessly toward the same goal.
The scenic design, lighting design, costumes, sound and video design, all take us into the broken home of the main characters, from room to room, to the streets of suburbia with a Brechtian edge, so sharp, it cuts right into your soul, knocking you off guard at times, in the very best way; you ask yourself, “How did we get here?” And it all feels so innate.
The pace of the show, the order of songs, the choreography… OMG! The choreography, by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui , compliments the story completely, never wasting a moment or beat of music. That’s the best type of choreography, when the movement enhances the overarching themes and story. Do not dance, just to dance… continue to move the story forward… or backward, but give us something mind blowing within the movement that actually means something. Again, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui delivers in spades.
The entire production is so impressive; I wish I could be a fly on the wall at one of their production meetings to witness how they break a scene a part, finding the core of its truth. With a team like this, it must be exhilarating when they discover the moment. My hat goes off to the courageous and innovative director, Diane Paulus. Thank you for infusing this production with so much life. There were countless moments in the production my family would quietly whisper, “Oh my God…” The imagery and stage pictures are still imbedded into my mind all these months later, and I wish I could see the production again… and again, and again, and again! Theatre created with a purpose is how it works. Theatre created just to make a quick buck will always fail, even if the producers attract the most talented people to help create it because the intention is financially based, not humanity based. A plea to all Broadway producers… if you want to make money and have longevity, tell stories we can relate to, that speak a universal theme, and while you’re at it, make it affordable for families. Don’t create a show “for the people” and then only a certain financial demographic of people can experience it. Theatre should be for everyone, especially young people.
My hope is that Jagged Little Pill finds a home in New York and a family won’t have to get a second mortgage to experience the musical. The show is completely relevant and will be for decades to come. The entire cast was exuberant and captivating with their execution of the material. Kudos to the entire cast: Celia Gooding, Lauren Patten, Elizabeth Stanley, Sean Allan Krill, Derek Klena, they all had their moments of profound truth, and at times, I wanted to run onstage to embrace them. I did not, of course, but I did shed tears of joy because it is so refreshing to see such beautiful truth revealed on stage. I felt as if I knew their characters all on a personal level. That’s magic.
In a production like this, it could be easy to overlook the ensemble, but not in Jagged Little Pill. The entire ensemble is so essential to every main character’s journey; their movement, placement, and choreography enhance each and every scene, so impactful, it boils over with an abundance of satisfying accord.
But here’s where things get dicey. Will Jagged Little Pill attract the right investors to find a home in New York? I have been following members of the team on social media and no announcement has been made. This is where I get frustrated. A show like SpongeBob SquarePants can get a shot on Broadway, but a life changing production like Jagged Little Pill may not.
At times, I am embarrassed to be a part of the human race and what the mass public finds entertaining. Long short, if you were one of the lucky people to experience the premieres, congratulations, if not, pray that one day you will be able to witness the magic of Jagged Little Pill. I promise you, you will leave a changed person. Theatre like this is so important for humanity. It brings hope and inspiration back into the world.
Thanks once again American Repertory Theatre of Boston and Diane Paulus for a night my family will never forget. Thank you for the love, thought, time, creativity, and passion everyone on the team infused into this production. Everyone felt the love, and the experience was overall spectacular.