Monday, February 3, 2020

You Live, You Learn (Jagged Little Pill Review)

First broadway show review for the 2019-2020 season! Y'all this season looks like it's going to be fire and I'm so excited to try and see as many as possible as they start performances.

I started hearing the buzz for this musical when Derek Klena was cast in the show for the pre-Broadway run. I've seen Derek Klena in Anastasia previously as he's one of the many broadway performers whose career I try to follow. I'm not 100% sure what got me interested in this show, but when I heard it was transferring to Broadway, I figured I would try to see it eventually.

Then preview performances started and it started to get some buzz. It was still on my radar but not on the forefront as something like Moulin Rouge or Hamilton currently is. My aunt decided she was going to come up to NYC for an annual girls reunion with her friends and we were talking about spending the day together. She suggested we go see a show together and we were throwing some ideas around and she mentioned that one of her friends saw the show and loved it and would be interested in seeing it.

Luck was in our favor because the show happened to be on the TKTS board for the Sunday matinee performance. If you don't know what TKTS is, it's an organization through TDF where they sell premium tickets at a discounted price. When I visited NYC in 2013 with my aunt, we purchased all our tickets through TKTS. I haven't actually used TKTS since seeing Cats at the end of 2017, but I enjoy having it as an option to see a show that doesn't have a rush ticket policy, or in the colder weather when I'm not as willing to rush tickets for a show.

So we got our tickets for the show and we were in the orchestra towards the left side and it was the perfect seating for the show. What I love about this show is that it reminded both of us how amazing live theater is and how performers on Broadway really are the top 10% of the entertainment industry. We walked out of the show and were so amazed by the show that we couldn't even put into words what we saw. I honestly don't remember a time when a show left me that speechless.

What I love about Jagged Little Pill is that it covers a lot of topics that most want to shy away from. This show is a mix of Dear Evan Hansen and Rent, and in my opinion, we haven't had a show that pushes the boundaries since Rent until now. However, because it does cover sensitive material, the show does have an age limit of 14 years and up and they do check the age of anyone who looks around that age to make sure they are within the age group. I honestly love that they do that because I definitely wouldn't recommend anyone with any young children or preteens to go see the show.

Jagged Little Pill is a juke box musical (which I completely forgot about until I was reading more into the show after seeing it) based off of Alanis Morissette's popular 90s album of the same name. Now I'm not too familiar with her music, but there were a few that stood out as songs that I had probably heard of a few times.

The show starts by the audience seeing a picture perfect family. Mary Jane, the mom, is writing her annual Christmas card letter for all her friends and family talking about everything her family has achieved in the past year. What they don't see is her struggles with her marriage with Steve, her son, Nick, feeling pressured to hold up the "golden boy" image, Frankie, her adopted daughter, feeling like her mom doesn't understand her while secretly having a girlfriend, and Mary Jane's growing addiction to pain medication prescribed to her from a car accident a few months prior.

Everything goes into escalation with Frankie meeting new student, Phoenix and learning she's bisexual and Nick's fellow classmate, Bella being raped by his best friend Andrew at a party they all attended. The difference in how each person responds to what happened to Bella drives a split in the family.

There are so many storylines going on throughout the show, but they find a way to put it all together and relate it back to the central character, Mary Jane. While it could have been easy for someone to become lost in the multiple story lines, book writer Diablo Cody and director Diane Paulus fond a way to complete the circle in a way that helps the audience follow along.

Before I go into each of the casts performance, I want to break down a few of the musical numbers that really stood out to me.

The first was the number "Smiling". This song, I found out, was written solely for the show and honestly it was my favorite song from the show coming out of the theater. What I loved about this number was the visual aspect of it. The song starts with the audience finding out that MJ's prescription has no more refills and she starts buying the medication from a drug dealer, but the fascinating part of the whole scene is that after we see the transaction take place, the scene starts moving in reverse going through her whole day past what we had already seen. I've never seen a show try this form of direction and it honestly played out so well.

The second number is the popular Alanis Morissette song "You Oughta Know". This song is performed by Jo, Frankie's girlfriend who identifies herself as they/them and its performed in the second act as what is known in the theater as the eleven o'clock number, meaning it's the big musical number usually done towards the end of the show, typically around 11 pm. Jo has just found out about Frankie and Phoenix and confronts Frankie about it and about Frankie also running away from her family. This number turns from just Jo singing on the stage to Frankie into a full blown concert feel performance that was so incredible, Lauren Patten received a standing ovation at the end of the number. I have never seen this in any show I've been to and have only heard of them for special performances, such as final performance for a cast or show.

How does someone follow up to a performance like that? Well I got the answer for that. The final song I want to talk about "Unforgiven". This is really the peak of the addiction for MJ where we see her on the couch struggling to comprehend everything that is going on with her family right now and using her pills as a clutch and eventually overdoses. What's fascinating about this number is how they incorporated choreography into this with one of the ensemble members, and Bella, who can relate to MJ because MJ has gone through the same thing Bella is currently going through. Once the song ends, the audience sees Steve and Nick finding MJ and the aftermath of getting her to the hospital. It's a dark scene that had the audience speechless and I'm sure some were even in tears watching this unfold.

Elizabeth Stanley carries the weight of this show with such grace and her performance as Mary Jane really left a mark in my memory. I saw her before in the national tour of The Bridges of Madison County, and thought she was a great soprano in the role, but this role really showcases her vocal talent and blew my mind. I honestly believe she's a front runner, if not a clear path to the Tony Award for best leading actress.

Sean Allen Krill plays MJ's husband, Steve, who appears to be a workaholic, but really is just struggling to figure out what's wrong with his marriage. Sometimes it feels like Steve is trying to glue the family together and get back into a family unit and I love that they chose him to do it. You can see he's struggling to understand what's wrong with MJ and him and the guilt he goes through when he learns about her addiction to her pain medication.

Derek Klena performs in the role of Nick, the oldest son who's graduating from high school. He's known to everyone as the golden boy and perfect son and struggles to maintain that image, while missing out on just living. His reaction to what happened to Bella confuses the audience until we realize that he was feeling the guilt of seeing what happened and not doing anything about it. Unfortunately for Bella, it was Nick's confession as a witness, that finally got everyone to believe what happened, as no one had believed Bella when she tried to tell people what happened.

Celia Gooding makes her broadway debut in the role of Frankie. While Gooding has a phenomenal performance in the role, I couldn't help but feel like Frankie was just a teenager rebelling against her mom and in turn was hurting her friends and family in the process. However, I do love that she is the one that pushes for Bella to tell her story of what happened and shows her leadership in the protest in favor of the #metoo movement.

Lauren Patten performs the role of Jo who is struggling to be herself in a family that doesn't want her to be her true self. What I love about Jo, is that she's a character in live theater that people can now relate to (forgive me if there are other characters already that I can't think of). We originally think that Jo is just a minor character in the show, but throughout the show we are proven wrong, especially with her performance of "You Oughta Know" that I spoke about above. There will be no surprise if Lauren will be another cast member circulating the award season for supporting actress.

I wanted to also give a special mention to Kathyrn Gallagher, who performs the role of Bella. Even though she is a secondary character and could be seen as a character to just get the storyline moving, Gallagher makes her presence on the stage known and her and Stanley have to go into the darkest mindset throughout the show. Gallagher's number "Predator" shows how when people are going through a trauma they are going through an out of body experience and don't really understand what is happening, but the trauma keeps playing in their head over and over again and the creative team did a great job portraying that on the stage.

This show is going to be the show to watch out for this season and mostly likely the most talked about show in the award season this year. The standards for juke box musicals have been raised in my opinion because of this show. I honestly want to go back and see the show over and over again and it will be the first show that I suggest for anyone to see on Broadway currently.

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