From Boston to Broadway: Jagged Little Pill

I’d been very nervous but also very excited to see the Broadway transfer of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. I’d driven up with a girlfriend to Boston in July 2018 to see JLP at ART in Boston and we loved it there. It had it’s problems with the book, sure, but overall I really loved it. By pure chance, I ended up befriending a woman in the cast and in summer 2019, she’d told me that they were really working on tightening up the book. I was thrilled to hear that because the book was all over the place in Boston and was probably the weakest aspect of the show.

I’d been reading the threads on BroadwayWorld’s message board about the previews and how they were going and some people were loving it, but a lot were talking still about the problems with the book and the lack of character development. So I thought maybe they hadn’t really tightened up the book at all.

Safe to say that my expectations were somewhat lowered when I saw Jagged Little Pill at the Broadhurst Theatre in December 2019.

The show is still really lively and empowering and inspiring and if I was a teenager now, I’d be totally in love with it. It would be my Rent. However, unlike Rent, the book is extremely problematic. The armchair critics of BroadwayWorld weren’t wrong when they said there was no character development. When Bella (played by Kathryn Gallagher) is allegedly assaulted, we’ve spent almost no time with her so why is she now trotted out to be a main character of interest? We probably spent the most time with Elizabeth Stanley, the cliched drug-addicted housewife Mary Jane. Celia Gose Gooding as Stanley’s daughter Frankie, is woefully underdeveloped or maybe just her character was just a stupid child. I didn’t understand her character’s abrupt dumpling of Jo (played with raw vulnerability by Lauren Patten) and fall head over heels for Phoenix (played by Antonio Cipriano) after a single conversation. It just didn’t make sense.

The audience waited with baited breath for Patten’s show-stopping rendition of You Oughtta Know. This song stopped the show regularly in Boston, so I heard, and it definitely did when I saw it, because it was so unexpected to hear that kind of powerhouse voice come out of this skinny woman. But now that you know it’s coming, it felt a little forced to have another 5 minute standing ovation. She sounds amazing during this song and the raw emotion that she is conveying is so palpable, but part of me felt like the cast (which really didn’t need to make an appearance for this song, thank you) just felt desperate for the ovation after Patten stopped singing.

Derek Klena as the picture perfect son, Nick, and Sean Allan Krill, as his father, were both good enough. I feel like he is capable of a lot more usually but he did the best he could with the material that he was given.

After the two hours and 45 minute show ended (cut 30 minutes, please!), I walked away from the Broadhurst feeling like Diablo Cody had so much promise in Boston but then completely shit the bed when it came to streamlining the book in between Boston and Broadway. Are Tom Kitt’s gorgeous arrangements of Alanis Morissette’s songs worth the price of admission? Probably. But I really just wish we could go back in time and make sure the book was better.

Duncan Sheik’s Latest Musical: Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

I’ve been a fan of Duncan Sheik’s music since Spring Awakening took the off-Broadway world by storm in 2006 so when I read that he’d composed the music for a new musical adaptation of the film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, I wanted to make an effort to try to see it. Plus Jennifer Damiano and Michael Zegan (Joel on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) were playing Ted and Carol! Plus Amanda Green had a lyric writing credit and I love her lyrics, especially in scores like Bring It On and High Fidelity. How could this be bad?!

This little 90 minute show in the round was about a couple in the 60’s who have a mind-altering experience at a retreat in California and come back to share it with their friends and everything that happens after. It’s somewhat trippy, to say the least.

I really appreciated a lot of the ideas that the show brought up in a while – what IS cheating? Is honesty always best?. However this felt more like a play with some songs thrown in than a musical. I don’t remember being very taken by any of the music but I do remember that it had a (very fitting) 1960’s feel to it.

The set is minimal – just a couple of furniture pieces that move around to create the different settings. Honestly, I thought it felt very long for a show that was one act. It didn’t really flow at all. The cast was great and they did their best with the material that they were given.

I was expecting something that was awe-inspiring like Spring Awakening, but this wasn’t it. Maybe next time, Duncan Sheik!

Girl From the North Country: Bob Dylan on Broadway, Part 2 (Review)

I knew nothing about Girl From the North Country before I sat down in my seat at the Belasco Theatre a couple of months ago. I heard Bob Dylan had written the music, but I wasn’t expecting it to be a Dylan jukebox musical. I thought we’d decided that Bob Dylan jukebox musicals was an idea that didn’t have any life left after 2005’s The Times They Are a Changin’. I had bought a ticket to see this show because a friend had seen and loved the London production the year before and I love Mare Winningham, Marc Kudisch, and Luba Mason. However, had I known it was a jukebox musical, I probably would’ve saved my money. Girl From the North Country was about what happens when a couple of passerbys come through this imaginary small town in middle America and spend the night at the local Inn.

It’s an understatement to say that this was too long. An hour and a 45 minutes would have sufficed. The cast was fantastic and I really enjoyed watching everyone on stage. However, by the time the lights went down at the end of Act 2, I realized, wait, who was The Girl From the North Country? If I had to guess, I would say that it was Mare Winningham’s character, or her daughter, but obviously, I have no clue (and that’s how you know there was something missing from the book!).

My only thought after I left the theatre was, “Well, that happened,” if that tells you anything. But to end on a high note: The cast was on point and they made it tolerable to stay in my seat.

A Short While With Tracy Letts in The Minutes (a Review)

Tracy Letts loves to write and star in his own plays and until he can give us a reason why he shouldn’t be doing that, I’ll happily keep coming back for it. I had no idea what The Minutes was about when I bought tickets, but I knew Jessie Mueller was in and that Tracy Letts wrote it.

When I entered the theatre that night, I saw a room that looked as though it was set up for the city council meeting of a small town government and I wasn’t wrong.

The show is odd to say the least. It’s about a city council meeting in the town of Big Cherry. There’s a new board member, Mr. Peel (played by Armie Hammer, who you’ll recognize as the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network – yes, he played both of them), and he begins to question where the meeting notes are from the prior week’s meeting. Mayor Superba (Tracy Letts) says they’re not ready yet and brushes over his question. Austin Pendelton was hilarious as the absentminded and longest standing city council member appropriately named Mr. Oldfield and Sally Murphy made everyone laugh as the eccentric Ms. Matz. As tension built Ms. Johnson (played by Mueller) visibly grew more and more uneasy while taking down the minutes at the present meeting.

This show ends with a tribal dance and that’s all I’ll say about that. I’m still not sure what the meaning was of the ending but it was completely unexpected and very entertaining. I’m glad I got to see this show before Broadway shut down for who knows how long.

Well done, Mr. Letts.

 

What Could’ve Been: The Great Society at Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center’s 3-hour epic play, The Great Society, by Rob Schenkkan (who also wrote All the Way) was one of the first shows that I saw in the 2019-2020 season.

It was an unofficial (or maybe it was official? I don’t know) sequel to All the Way that told the story of LBJ’s attempts to create a “great society.” It details historical events like the Civil Rights Movement as well as the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and the downfall of Vietnam. It was so, so interesting.

I was never bored once and neither was my partner, who isn’t a regular 3-hour playgoer by any means.

But the best part was by far the cast. Brian Cox was an incredible LBJ, the captivating Bryce Pinkham was Robert F. Kennedy, the impeccable Frank Wood was Clark Clifford (Secretary of Defense), and the always charismatic Marc Kudisch played Richard Daley. Barbara Garrick, Nikkole Salter, and Angela Pierce also gave memorable performances as Lady Bird, Coretta Scott King, and Pat Nixon respectively on a stage dominated mostly by men.

Schenkkan succeeded again in writing an epic drama about American history and I can’t wait to see what he gets up to next.

Happy Mother’s Day: My Name Name is Lucy Barton (a Review)

I always jump at any chance to see Laura Linney onstage. She is undeniably talented so I jumped at the chance to see her perform a one-woman play back in February. Based on a book of the same name, the show tells the story of a woman, Lucy, who goes into the hospital for a routine operation and winds up staying for 9 weeks.

The show is largely about what happens when she wakes up one day and sees her mother at the foot of her bed, whom she hasn’t seen in 9 years because her mother disapproves of her life choices. Linney plays both Lucy and Lucy’s mother. It is a moving, though somewhat sad play but definitely worth seeing. Linney very ably carried the show effortlessly the entire 90 minutes. If you have a chance to witness Laura Linney onstage, grab it.

Slave Play: The Play That’s Racist Against White People (Or Is It?)

Slave Play, a little play, by Jeremy O’Harris, was by far the most controversial play of the season (unless I’m completely blacking out and there were other shows at which white people stood up and yelled, “THIS SHOW IS RACIST AGAINST WHITE PEOPLE!” Let me know).

I had zero idea what this was about before I went to see it all the way back in September but I had a perfect front row, center mezzanine seat and saw my reflection staring back at me, because the set was full of mirrors, while I paged through my Playbill before the show started.

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You’d think this show is about slavery from the title, right? Well, the first set that is presented is vaguely plantation-esque so you wouldn’t be wrong. But after the first vignette is over and the second one starts, you start to question what you just saw.

Without giving too much away, this is group therapy for interracial couples working through their feelings about being part of an interracial couple (at least that’s how I remember it). I have to say though that it was nice to see a cast with zero celebrities in it. It had seven no-name, but very talented actors. I would definitely reserve a day when the world is open again to go watch this at Lincoln Center if you didn’t get a chance to see it.