Out of Town
A.R.T.’s Jagged Little Pill the Musical an Easy Pill to Swallow
I can’t tell you how much Alanis Morrissette’s 1995 Jagged Little Pill (the album) sits strongly in my conscious mind as one of my all time favorites from one of my all time favorite musicians. It’s a powerful collection of songs that was basically my gateway drug into the rich and dense world of Morrissette’s artistic and creative mind. Her songs still float through my blood stream with such staying power that when I went to see the new show at the American Repertory Theater in Boston, I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to separate my memories of each and every song she has sung on her numerous albums from the ones that I was about to hear. It’s a juke box musical, basically, and sadly, that brings to mind such mind-numbing shows like Mamma Mia!, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, and Rock of Ages. Luckily, this rock musical doesn’t feel as inauthentic as one might have dreaded. In fact, it’s a theatrical gift to those Morrissette fans who are sitting on the edge of their anticipatory seats, holding their collective breath hoping to be blown away.
It has all the songs you could imagine, “You Learn“, “Right Through You”, “Hand in My Pocket“, “Mary Jane“, to name just a few (music by Morrissette and Glen Ballard; lyrics by Morrissette; additional music by Michael Farrell & Guy Sigsworth) weaving their way through a tale centered on a pseudo-perfect American family in suburban Connecticut at Christmastime. With a well-crafted scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez (NYTW’s Red Speedo, Public’s Grounded), rock star lighting by Justin Townsend (Broadway’s The Humans), costumes that try a bit too hard to be super cool by Emily Rebholz (Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen, Indecent), loud and strong sound design by Jonathan Deans (Broadway’s Finding Neverland), and a creative rock concert video design by the wonderfully overworked Finn Ross (Broadway’s Mean Girls, Frozen), the theatrical cards are definitely stacked in this production’s favor.
But it is really in the powerful “You Oughta Know” sung to power-house perfection by the incredible Lauren Patten (Broadway’s Fun Home, Off-Broadway’s The Wolves) that tears the roof off the theatre and causing the audience to leap to its feet in a dazzling state of wonder. It’s truly worth the wait as it comes in the middle of Act 2, breaking every preconceived notion possible and sending shivers of excitement through our systems. It is oddly enough sung by the secondary character, Jo, but it carries more emotional weight and baggage than anything else. Sounding amazing with a rock star anthem magistery, and thanks to the musical direction by Bryan Perri (Broadway’s Wicked) and the music supervision, orchestrations, and arrangements by Tom Kitt (Broadway’s SpongeBob Squarepants, Everyday Rapture), the piece flies upward to the rafters. Not to say the rest of the cast or performances are any less worthy of our adoration, but there is nothing quite like that moment. It will stay with you far beyond anything else this tightly wound musical serves up.
It’s all pretty compelling stuff in Jagged Little Pill, although the plot is muddled with too many different directions and important political statements. The #MeToo and #YouAreNotAlone movements get their placard waving moments, thanks in part to the strongly formulated story line revolving around Bella. She is intensely portrayed by Kathryn Gallagher (Broadway/Deaf West’s Spring Awakening) highlighting a slice of darkness by her intense rendition of the song, “Predator“. Entwined in that tragedy, is the fascinating and surprisingly well thought out connection to the perfect boy wonder and prodigal son, Nick Healy, played with a deep and earnest passion by the very good Derek Klena (Broadway’s Anastasia). Naturally, his song, “Perfect” fits him and his predicament well. Almost too well, as it encompasses the scenario too easy in its custom design. Here lies one of the more complex issues I have with the musical. To make some of these songs work, and they do most defiantly, some of the plot twists and turns, especially the creation of Phoenix, played perfectly by Antonio Cipriano (BVP’s Brighton Beach Memoirs), feel far too convenient, without having much overall meaning to the main weight of the story presented.
That brings me to the more glaring problem within the story; its inability to really decide which of the two female leads this musical is really trying to inject into our nervous system. Is it about the mother, Mary Jane? Who, because of a car accident and an addiction to being perfectly in control of herself and all else, finds herself falling hopeless over the edge. The scenario results in the most gorgeous twisted rendition of “Uninvited” sung achingly by Elizabeth Stanley (Broadway’s On The Town) and she feels like the natural theatrical choice, but she isn’t given full rein. This song is one of my favorites but I must admit that when someone casually suggested at intermission that Alice Ripley, of Next To Normal fame should play the tormented mother if and when it comes to Broadway, the fantasy casting became tightly implanted into my head that I had a hard time seeing beyond the brilliance of that idea. Stanley is good as the addicted mother, but she doesn’t find the darkly disturbed and angry ingredient that this part demands. Her husband, Steve, played beautifully by the strong voiced Sean Allan Krill (Broadway’s Honeymoon in Vegas) is functional at best, with their duet “So Sexy” feeling more like an excuse than a good reason. But their relationship works, especially when the brilliant “Thank U” rears its glorious head in just the nick of time.
But the musical also plays with the storyline about the complex struggle for identity, in all aspects of the word, for the teenage adopted “Unprodigal Daughter“, Frankie, played by the least effective member of the cast, Celia Gooding (FAME, Urinetown). Her singing feels the most strained of the group, failing to register in the comparative Alanis struggle inside our heads, but she does get a focus that feels like a battle for supremacy. Gooding sings well with the softer “That I Would Be Good” performed neatly with the sexy Phoenix (Cipriano) as well as the sensual “Head Over Feet“, but the iconic “Ironic” doesn’t feel as true or organic, and her storyline grabs at our hearts with less pull than the amount of energy it is given. There is an imbalance here, asking us to question who is really the organic center and heroine of the story. The choreography, by the slightly over-zealous Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (Joe Wright’s film “Anna Karenina“) could also use a bit more of an organic tonic dashed over its design, as the movements feel far too stereotypical to the source material, trying so hard to give us a punk rock esthetic as if grown from the earth of one of Alanis’ concerts.
As directed by the wonderfully electric Diane Paulus (Broadway’s Waitress), one of the most difficult aspects of the new musical, Jagged Little Pill is for the ultimate Alanis fan to find a way to separate the analytical and memory-infused mind from the compelling and complex story that sits somewhere slightly uncomfortably inside the book by the wonderfully smart Diablo Cody (“Juno”, “Young Adult”). Each moment my brain was thinking and wondering very loudly: what will the next famed song be? And how will it fit snugly into the story that is unfolding before us? But more importantly, or let me re-phrase that, more dangerously, how will each performance of each song compare to that magical voice that exudes from Alanis? Will I be able to disregard the impossible and hear it from the singer on the stage without minimizing it? Because, to be frank, nothing will sound as perfectly tuned-in to the song as Morrissette’s recorded performances of each. But, if structured and performed strongly with a deep emotional and intuitive integration, it might not matter, or at least it shouldn’t in the end. And it doesn’t, overall, basically. Because the music is sublime but it takes a process to get to a place of acceptance, and about two-thirds of the way through I was able to silence that other voice and swallow that Jagged Little Pill happily with an ease that surprised my senses. Its heart and soul are in the right place, and with a few tweaks here and there, and a look at the focal point and perspective, I’ll be looking forward to rocking out with Alanis on Broadway sometime soon. So Thank U Alanis, for being so decidedly awesome.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
The Olivier Awards Return
Celebrate the very best in British theatre in a star-studded evening as the Olivier Awards return to the Royal Albert Hall on April 2nd.
Three-time Olivier Award nominee & Primetime Emmy winner, Hannah Waddingham will be hosting the awards for the first time.
The event will feature performances from all of the Best New Musical nominees, including The Band’s Visit, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Sylvia and Tammy Faye. Also performing will be Oklahoma! and Sister Act, both nominated for the Best Musical Revival award, as well as Disney’s Newsies, which has been nominated for Matt Cole’s choreography.
The multi-Olivier Award winner The Book of Mormon, will be performing to mark its ten-year anniversary in the West End. Additionally, special award winner Arlene Philips will be honored with a tribute from the cast of Grease.
The ceremony will be broadcast live on Magic Radio from 6pm with Ruthie Henshall and Alice Arnold hosting.
The highlights program will also be aired on ITV1 and ITVX at 10:15 pm in the UK and via Official London Theatre’s YouTube channel elsewhere.
And the nominees are:
Out of Town
The Unpacking of the First Métis Man of Odesa, An Interview
Punctuate! Theatre is unpacking a love story. A love story about a couple. A love story about Ukraine. And a love story against an unbelievably complicated backdrop. Starting at The Theatre Centre in Toronto, the company is ushering forth the world premiere of First Métis Man of Odesa before it spins itself out on stages across Canada. Spanning continents and set against the backdrop of the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Métis playwright and Punctuate! Artistic Director, Matthew MacKenzie (Dora Award-winning playwright for Bears, After the Fire, The Particulars) joins forces with his wife, the award-winning Ukrainian actress Mariya Khomutova (Odesa Film Festival Grand Prix – The Golden Duke award-winner NONNA, Two People), to tell the story of their COVID courtship and share an intimate perspective on the personal impacts of the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Drawn from their real-life love story, a story that is ultimately still unfolding to this very day, First Métis Man of Odesa unpacks the journey of Matt and Masha’s love that spans continents where distance and conflicts can’t tame their passionate connection. After meeting on a theatre research trip in Kyiv, a spark is struck, and a romance between a Métis Playwright and a Ukrainian artist is ignited, taking them from the beaches of the Black Sea to the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, within the onset of a global pandemic, the eruption of a brutal war, but also the many joyous moments that this union begets, including marriage and the birth of their son.
During the height of the lockdown in 2021, an initial version of this piece was presented as a radio play at Factory Theatre, written by MacKenzie and directed by Nina Lee Aquino. This March, First Métis Man of Odesa, as directed by Lianna Makuch (Pyretic Productions/Punctuate!’s Barvinok), makes its stage debut, offering a compelling continuation of the initial story told in that first radio play. The couple, Matthew MacKenzie and his wife, Mariya Khomutova, sat down with Frontmezzjunkies and thankfully answered a few questions about their incredible journey from that first love-struck connection to its World Premiere at The Theatre Centre in Toronto.
Tell me, how you decided to embark on telling your own story and what the beginning of this creative process looked like for you two?
Initially, Matt wrote an audio play for Factory Theatre about our romance, then getting married and having their son during the pandemic. The plan had been to expand the piece for the stage, a plan that took on much urgency after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Both the pandemic and war have a deeply dehumanizing effect, so our hope in telling our love story is to share the human side of these major world events; a human side that headlines and news clips can’t fully capture.
What aspect of your character, or your involvement with/creation of this play resonates the most powerfully inside you?
For both of us, the opportunity to share all the joy, humour, anger, and frustration we’ve experienced in the past few years is a really therapeutic process. Many of our friends and family only know snippets of what we’ve been through, so the opportunity to tell our story across the country is one we are deeply grateful for.
The phrase “you don’t know what someone is carrying with them” has really hit home over the past couple of years, as we have had to contend with some pretty epic challenges as a couple and as individuals.
Tell me a bit about what it is like to bring your character to the stage? What does mean to you to be telling this story?
We play ourselves in the play, but we very much play versions of ourselves in the play. We had to mine conflict between us out of a few outbursts, as there haven’t actually been a lot of [conflicts] in our relationship so that we could bring the drama of what we are going through to the fore.
Challenges of playing ourselves have included the fact that [Matt] is not a trained actor, while Mariya is. Mariya though comes from a theatre tradition that was almost entirely focused on the classics, so playing herself in a play based on her life is definitely a new and challenging experience!
Tell me a bit more about your development process? Was there a typical ‘first read’ or was it different, given your own story inspired the work…
We were able to conduct several development workshops over a period of six months. There was no shortage of content that we could derive from our lives, so the challenge was determining what to keep and what to let fall away. Even after our first read, we cut 15 pages from our rehearsal draft. Events in our lives and in Ukraine will no doubt continue to necessitate the evolution of our script.
What’s been the most challenging part of this process for you?
For Mariya, it was buying into the idea (that is quite a common one in Canada) that a play about someone’s real life can be art. Seeing Hailey Gillis’s My Ex-boyfriend Yard Sale, really helped her believe this was possible.
For Matt, it met the challenge of performing for the first time in ten years. The last time he performed, he made his friends promise they would never let him perform again, but all agreed it didn’t make much sense for anyone else to play him in this piece.
The most rewarding?
Having already performed several shows in Kamloops, the most rewarding part of this process is sharing this story with refugees from Ukraine. Their responses have been incredible and have really encouraged us to share our story with as many people as possible.
What do you want the audience to get from this play, and from your character?
We want the audience to join us as we relive our sweeping love story, from Odesa to Toronto. We want the audience to see the human side of the conflict in Ukraine. And we want the audience to leave the theatre with the hope that love can and will conquer all.
First Métis Man of Odesa is in Toronto for its world premiere run at the Franco Boni Theatre @ The Theatre Centre from March 30 – April 8, 2023 (opening March 31). Following the world premiere in Toronto, First Métis Man of Odesa will appear at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, The Cultch in Vancouver, and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg. For information and tickets, please visit theatrecentre.org/event/first-metis-man-of-odesa/
Florence Welch, Martyna Majok, Rachel Chavkin and More On New Musical Gatsby Coming To A.R.T
Florence Welch Photo by De Wilde
Producers Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, Jordan Roth, and American Repertory Theater(A.R.T.) at Harvard University announced today that Gatsby, a brand-new musical stage adaptation of the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, will make its highly anticipated World Premiere at A.R.T. in 2024, and will be directed by Tony Award® winner Rachel Chavkin and choreographed by Tony Award winner Sonya Tayeh.
Gatsby will feature music by Florence Welch, the Grammy Award-nominated international rock star of Florence + the Machine and Thomas Bartlett, the Oscar and Grammy Award nominee, with lyrics by Ms. Welch, and a book by Pulitzer Prize® winner Martyna Majok.
Gatsby will be produced at American Repertory Theater by special arrangement with Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, and Jordan Roth, in association with Robert Fox. Hannah Giannoulis serves as co-producer.
American Repertory Theater (Diane Paulus, Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director; Kelvin Dinkins, Jr., Executive Director) at Harvard University produces groundbreaking work to catalyze dialogue and transformation. Tony Award-winning and nominated productions include Jagged Little Pill; Waitress; Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; All the Way; The Glass Menagerie; Pippin; Once; and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Its revival of 1776, a co-production with Roundabout Theatre Company, is currently touring nationally. Learn more at AmericanRepertoryTheater.org.
Additional Gatsby news will be announced soon.
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