Pictured above: Celia Rose Gooding and the cast of Jagged Little Pill.
Meet the Healys. Steve Healy (Seth Allan Krill) is so consumed by work, he has no idea what’s going on at home, though he does find the time to Google hardcore porn all day. His wife, Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley), has her own addiction—namely painkillers, which help her block out a dark secret from her past.
Their son, Nick (Derek Kena), has been admitted to Harvard, but is suffocating from the pressure to be perfect, which he certainly isn’t; he witnessed his friend rape an unconscious girl at a party and remained strangely silent about it. And their black adopted daughter, Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding), is consumed with resentment over her parents’ patronizing treatment of her, though she herself has serious problems in dealing with people. In fact, she happens to be cheating on her girlfriend, Jo (Lauren Patten), with a new male student (Antonio Cipriano), in between going to activist rallies and trying to get people to believe, rather than blame, the rape victim, Bella (Kathryn Gallagher).
Such are the layers hiding behind this family’s suburban Connecticut gloss, and as Christmas approaches, it all comes crashing down, to the sound of aching songs by Alanis Morissette and Glen Ballard. It’s basically Angst! The Musical! And when the show stops to also gratuitously reference everything from climate change to white privilege to Adderall, the book by Diablo Cody (Juno, Tully) seems a bit preposterous, especially as it eventually tries to tie up the loose ends with a happy bow.
Along the way, there’s an unfunny teacher character and an unneeded scene in a church. But I must say that a lot of it works, and between the script, Diane Paulus’ direction, the angry, spazzy choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, and musical supervision by Tom Kitt (who also worked on Next to Normal and American Idiot, which trod some similar territory), this quirky jukebox show is often quite powerful. All that rage orchestrated on such a large scale becomes haunting, and the casting is spot-on, from the excellent Stanley and Krill to the soulfully damaged Gallagher and a terrific Patten, who scores on a whimsical “Hand in My Pocket” and a raging “You Oughta Know,” aimed at her deceiving girlfriend (a fine Gooding).
Jo hates being called Joanne, resents her mother forcing her to wear girlie clothes, and truly does not appreciate being manipulated and discarded. I was happy to see the lesbian be the show’s most sympathetic character, though in this ensemble, that might not be saying much. (After all, Mary Jane, who starts out as possibly sympathetic, winds up admitting she feels that rape victims helped bring it on themselves. Dark stuff here.)
A lot of the music—which includes some new material—is not as familiar as the aforementioned hits, and that helps the show seem fresher than some of the rotely anthem-spewing musicals out there. But regardless of the background sounds, would you ever want to spend more time with the Healys once this aggressively “woke” Peyton Place of a show is over? Maybe not, but I’m here to remind you of the mess they left and the cross I bear and….kindly take that hand out of your pocket and applaud, thank you. You learn.