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He Says: Broadway’s Jagged Little Pill Rocks Big and Strong Down Many Roads

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Celia Rose Gooding, Derek Klena, Elizabeth Stanley & Sean Allan Krill in Jagged Little Pill. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Typically, when writing a review I try to find one theme to focus on and around. One pathway or symbolic road map to find meaning and structure in my thoughts, but much like this hyperactive and throughly rocking jukebox musical, I just can’t pick one to run with. So I’m going to power ahead with them all, and I hope somehow it all miraculously comes together as well as American Repertory Theater’s Jagged Little Pill does. The overly issue-ladened musical strives to encompass so much, telling so many tales of importance, and somehow pulls them all off in a way that just about works. It’s not a perfectly constructed piece of full formed art, like the much more fully intentioned Hadestown or The Band’s Visit, but even with its too many important plot lines cascading forward with an Alanis head-pounding enthusiasm, the show somehow magical connects, almost sending me over the edge pretty much all of the second half, although it doesn’t quite manage to nudge me over the edge.  I was on the verge of ugly crying, like I did in Dear Evan Hansen, but I didn’t, although I certainly was biting my lip trying it hold it together against the wave after wave of ‘important’ protest-worthy issues of the moment. What does that say? I’m not quite sure. The power is there, but the detours and the quick turns somehow keep us from dropping over the edge into the river of tears.  Which is a shame. At least for this theatre junkie.

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Nora Schell (center) and the Company of Jagged Little Pill. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

In the same way that theatre lives powerfully in my heart, I can’t even begin to tell you how much Alanis Morrissette’s 1995 Jagged Little Pill (the album) sits strongly in my conscious mind. In her ‘debut’ album (we won’t talk about the teen pop Canadian albums she did prior to this American debut), she single-handedly encompassed an angst and a feeling of the time. On that force, the album propelled it up the charts and into our collective souls. It is, without a doubt, one of my all time favorites albums from one of my all time favorite singer/songwriting musicians. The powerful collection of tracks became my gateway drug into the rich and dense world of Morrissette’s artistic and creative mind. Her intensity of feeling float through my blood stream with such staying power that when I first went to see this show in Boston at the American Repertory Theater, I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to separate my memories of each and every song sung by her from the ones that I was about to hear performed by others. Luckily, this rock musical doesn’t feel as inauthentic as I was dreading back then.  It was and is, in fact, a theatrical gift to all those Morrissette fans who are sitting on the edge of their anticipatory seats, holding their collective breath, hoping to be blown away, just like my plus one the other day when we sat down, ready to take in the spectacularly upgraded and refocused Broadway version now playing at the Broadhurst Theatre.

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Derek Klena and Company of Jagged Little Pill. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Jagged Little Pill 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 grand tale centered on a pseudo-perfect American family in suburban Connecticut at Christmastime. The well-crafted scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez (NYTW’s Red Speedo, Public’s Grounded) has been tightened and improved.  Don’t ask me how, but there was more clear intent and a focused vision that was only enhanced magnificently by the floating rock star lighting by Justin Townsend (Broadway’s The Humans). The costumes by Emily Rebholz (Broadway’s Dear Evan HansenIndecent) seem to have been fine-tuned as well, creating a thoughtful balance between super cool and ‘Alanis Morissette’ intense, all backed seamlessly by the vibrating-ly strong sound design by Jonathan Deans (Broadway’s Finding Neverland), and a much improved video design by Lucy MacKinnon (Broadway’s The Lifespan of a Fact). The lessons were learned and the problems fixed before this show made its way to Broadway, stacking the theatrical cards most definitely in this production’s favor and fulfilling our hopes and desperate desires.

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Lauren Patten and the Company of Jagged Little Pill. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

But the ‘WOW’ is really in the powerful “You Oughta Know” that blows the roof off of this Broadway house. Sung to power-house perfection midway through Act Two by the incredible Lauren Patten (Broadway’s Fun Home, Off-Broadway’s The Wolves), the anthem tears into your soul as if Patten has been embodied by that younger angry Morissette we all fell so strongly for back in the day, causing the audience to leap to its feet in a dazzled state of wonder.  It’s truly worth the wait, breaking every preconceived notion and sending shivers of excitement through our systems.  It is oddly sung by a secondary character, Jo, but it carries more emotional weight and baggage than almost anything else. She electrifies the song, manifesting 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), with music coordination by Michael Aarons (Broadway’s Moulin Rouge!), the piece flies upward to the rafters and rarely comes down. Not to say the rest of the cast or performances are any less worthy of our adoration, particularly Nora Schell (Barrington’s Company) and her strong stage presence, but there is nothing quite like that “You Oughta Know” moment.  It will stay with you far beyond anything else that exists in this tightly wound musical. So will Patten’s breakout performance, not just in that one song, but in her total rock star embodiment throughout.

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Elizabeth Stanley, Kathryn Gallagher & Company of Jagged Little Pill. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

It’s all pretty compelling stuff in Jagged Little Pill, although the plot is filled to the brim with too many different roadways and important political statements.  The #MeToo and #YouAreNotAlone movements get their placard waving moments, thanks in part to the strongly formulated and detailed story line revolving around Bella. She is intensely portrayed by the magnificently heart-breaking Kathryn Gallagher (Broadway/Deaf West’s Spring Awakening) highlighting a slice of darkness by her intense rendition of the song, “Predator“. It’s the hardest pill to swallow, her pain-filled story, especially when aligned with Mary Jane’s, as it is done with great intention and with thoughtful process. The psychotherapist in me was proud in their handling and word choices, giving survivor guidance and clear vision to a messy upsetting violation.

Entwined in that tragedy, is the 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).  That moment when Bella points out to him the unfairness of ‘being believed’ is as powerful and smart as one can imagine. Naturally, his song, “Perfect” fits him and his predicament all too well, as it encompasses and form fits the scenario and the character with ease. Maybe almost too much. 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 moments are too literal with plot twists and turns feeling somewhat unnecessarily forced or contrived, like the dynamically well framed church scene. Do we really need all the frenetic action around the central character? The song works solidly on its own, without the physical presence of a priest and the kinetic energy that surrounds sometimes masking or getting in the way of the emotional core. Husband and father, Steve, played beautifully by the strong voiced Sean Allan Krill (Broadway’s Honeymoon in Vegas) also falls victim to that crime. His inclusion, at least in Act One, is functional at best with his duet “So Unsexy” feeling more like an excuse than a good reason. He makes it up, though, bringing me closest to tears when he bares his heart and soul in and to “Mary Jane“. But why, in that particular moment does he not reach out and touch her? It’s something he has been trying to do from the beginning.

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Celia Rose Gooding & Antonio Cipriano in Jagged Little Pill. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The wise inclusion and creation of handsome new kid on the block, Phoenix, played perfectly by the endearing Antonio Cipriano (BVP’s Brighton Beach Memoirs), feels completely authentic, but somewhat too convenient, without having much overall meaning to the main weight of the story presented. I wanted more of him, as his character seems interesting and his voice strong, in the same way that I also wanted more of Jo. She could and should have a whole musical revolving just around her, to be frank, but in Jagged, these two and their competitive relationship with the teenage adopted “Unprodigal Daughter“, Frankie, played by the least effective member of the cast, Celia Rose Gooding (AMAS’s FAME: The Musical, Urinetown) is more compelling than the angry Frankie and her journey. The daughter is saddled with an unfocused conflict with her mother, one that hangs over the air like a stereotype, without clarity or specific structure. Mother and daughter fight, as I was told by my theatre companion, but usually those battles have a sharp focus. The lines are never this hazy and unclear, or at least, so overly ripe. Gooding’s singing feels the most strained of the group, failing to register as convincingly in the comparative Alanis struggle inside our heads. Gooding sings well with the softer “That I Would Be Good” performed neatly with the sexy Phoenix as well as the sensual “Head Over Feet“, but the iconic “Ironic” doesn’t feel as true or organic as it should. Her storyline also doesn’t grab at our hearts with the same amount of energy it is given presenting an imbalance. It forces us to ask the question who is really the organic center and heroine of the story. Wisely, the direction since Boston has sharpened the focus away from Frankie, which in a way has settled the show into something that connects easier and better.

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Elizabeth Stanley & Heather Lang. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The choreography, by the inventive and very skilled Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (Joe Wright’s film “Anna Karenina“) has been vastly improved since Boston, finding a more organic tonic dashed forcibly over its design. Her movements feel strongly organic to the source material, giving a punk rock esthetic to the presentation as if grown out of the earth of one of Alanis’ energetic concerts. Her work shines the most emotionally dynamic within the scenario with the mother, Mary Jane, perfectly embodied by Elizabeth Stanley (Broadway’s On The Town), who, because of a car accident that results in an addiction to pills strives for complete perfection and total control of herself and all those around her. There is a moment when dancer Heather Lang (“Fosse/Verdon“) takes over the inner workings of Mary Jane, finding a heart-wrenching grace in a brilliantly choreographed collapse, in the same way Lang also takes over the drunken party scene with equal tense focus. Falling hopeless over the couch’s edge, Stanley as mother Mary Jane, shines in the central spotlight, giving an edgy clarity for the whole show, climaxing in the gorgeously twisted rendition of “Uninvited”. In Boston, the focus of Jagged Little Pill was bi-focal, but now, Mary Jane has taken the central theatrical spotlight, giving her character full rein to flourish. Stanley is so captivatingly stunning as the addicted mother, trembling on the edge, bringing a darkly disturbed and angry ingredient to her love and familial relationships. This is particularly evident within the brilliant “Thank U”, watching her need and passion rearing its glorious head in just the nick of time.

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Elizabeth Stanley in Jagged Little Pill. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

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 inside the much improved book by the wonderfully smart Diablo Cody (“Juno”, “Young Adult”).  Each musical moment within the show’s complex struggle for identity on all fronts, my brain had a hard time not comparing and contrasting to the real Alanis. This was a far easier thing to do on Broadway than when I saw it in Boston. There, I had a difficult time releasing the mind from wondering what iconic song would be next, how would it fit into the story line, and 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 Morissette’s? Because, to be frank, nothing will sound as perfectly tuned-in to the song as Morrissette’s recorded performances of each (although Patton comes pretty darn close). Second time around though, it was much easier to sit back and let it all wash over me, especially because of its fine structure and strong performances.  The music is sublime and even when it takes a process to get to a place of acceptance, 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 exactly in the right place, thanks to some reworking from Boston and a determination to get it just right. So Thank U, Alanis, for being so decidedly awesome and giving me a new way to listen and feel your magical and powerfully personal songs.

For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Broadway

Stephen Schwartz To Be Inducted into The Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame

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Legendary Award Winning Broadway and Movie Music Composer Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell, Pippin) will be inducted into the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame (LIMEHOF) on Saturday, March 23rd, 2024 at 7pm.

There will also be concert emceed by Musician Paul Shaffer (from the David Letterman Show) who worked with Schwartz early in his career.

Schwartz has won 4 Grammys and 3 Oscars among other awards in his career that spans over 50 years both on Broadway and on the silver screen. Additionally, Schwartz has contributed music and lyrics to several movies such as “Pocahontas” (1995), “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996), “The Prince of Egypt” (1998), and “Enchanted” (2007).He was also involved with the upcoming feature film adaptation of Wicked to be released in the fall.

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Ani DiFranco and Lola Tung Join Hadestown

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The Tony and Grammy Award®-winning Best Musical Hadestown is currently stars Grammy Award winner Ani DiFranco as Persephone singing “Our Lady Of The Underground”.

 Lola Tung (“The Summer I Turned Pretty”) as Eurydice, Jordan Fisher (Dear Evan Hansen, Grease: Live,) as Orpheus here singing “All I’ve Ever Known”.

Grammy Award nominee Phillip Boykin as Hades, and Tony Award winner Lillias White as Hermes.

They are joined by Belén Moyano, Kay Trinidad, and Brit West as the Fates. The chorus of Workers is played by Emily Afton, Malcolm Armwood, Chibueze Ihuoma, Alex Puette, and Grace Yoo. The cast includes swings Sojourner Brown, Brandon Cameron, Tara Jackson, Max Kumangai, Alex Lugo, and Tanner Ray Wilson.

Hadestown originated as Anaïs Mitchell’s indie theater project that toured Vermont which she then turned into an acclaimed album. With Rachel Chavkin, her artistic collaborator, Hadestown has been transformed into a genre-defying new musical that blends modern American folk music with New Orleans-inspired jazz to reimagine a sweeping ancient tale.

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Broadway

Live From The Edison Hotel Times Square Chronicles Presents Goes Live With Bonnie Comley and Stewart F. Lane

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Photo of Bonnie Comley, Stewart F. Lane and Suzanna Bowling

“Live From The Edison Hotel Times Square Chronicles Presents”, is a new show that is filmed live every Wednesday from 5 – 6 in the lobby of the iconic Hotel Edison, before a live audience. We will run the video on our site every Thursday and then it moves onto the podcast networks.

In this episode T2C’s publisher and owner Suzanna Bowling talks with Broadway royalty and longtime married couple Bonnie Comley and Stewart F. Lane. We talk about the Palace Theatre, Broadway HD and so much more.

We were also so excited because the show and our guests are now featured on the TV screens in the lobby and the hotel rooms.

I am so grateful to my guests Bonnie and Stewart for joining me. Thank-you Magda Katz for videoing and creating the content to go live, the audience who showed up to support us, Rommel Gopez and The Edison Hotel for their kindness and hospitality.

We hope to see you there on February 21st for our guests the creator of Times Square and Hampton Fashion Week Dee Rivera, Celebrity hairstylist Samantha Smoker and Fashion Designer Shani Grosz.

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Book Reviews

Live From The Edison Hotel Times Square Chronicles Presents Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley

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I am so pleased to announce our guests for Valentine’s Day are Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, the founders of BroadwayHD.com, an online streaming service on a mission to promote and preserve live theatre, extending the reach of Broadway and Broadway-caliber shows to anyone, anywhere. BroadwayHD currently has a catalog of over 300 full-length stage plays and musicals available for streaming on demand, so when you can’t get to Broadway, go to BroadwayHD on your tv, phone, or tablet!

Mr. Lane and Ms. Comley have collectively produced over 40 films and 45 Broadway shows, garnering nine Tony Awards and another 14 Tony nominations. They have also won Olivier Awards, Drama Desk, Drama
League, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for their stage productions. Lane has co-owned Broadway’s famous Palace Theater for almost 40 years.

The theater community has honored the couple for their philanthropic work, including The Actors Fund Medal of Honor, The Drama League Special Contribution to the Theater Award, The Paul Newman Award from Arts Horizons, and The Theater Museum Distinguished Service Award. The stage at Boston University’s new theater center is named in their honor, as is the Music Theater Program. The Musical Theater Society Room bears their name at Emerson College, and the 500-seat theater at the University
of Massachusetts Lowell is known as the Comley Lane Theater. Lane is a recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award at Boston University, and Comley is Distinguished Alumni of both Emerson College and UMass Lowell.

Mr. Lane is a theater historian and playwright and has written the critically acclaimed “Black Broadway: African Americans on the Great White Way” (Square One Publishers), “Jews on Broadway” (McFarland Publishers), “Let’s Put on a Show” (Working Arts Library), and the plays “In The Wings (published in spring 2008 by Hal Leonard), “If It Was Easy” (published by Performing Books and nominated for Best New Play by the American Theatre Critics Association), and the musical “Back Home Again” (with music
and lyrics by John Denver) which he was awarded The 2011 John Denver Spirit Award for his work.

“Live From The Edison Hotel Times Square Chronicles Presents”, is a new show that will be filmed live every Wednesday from 5 – 6 in the lobby of the iconic Hotel Edison, before a live audience. To see our first episode click here.

Originally our guest was Maury Yeston, but he had to reschedule. He will be our guest at a later date, however Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, our guests for Valentine’s Day could not be more perfect. They are the epitome or Love and Broadway.

See you at The Edison Hotel.

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Broadway

Chita Will Be Honored As Lights Dim

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Broadway will dim its marquee lights to honor the two-time Tony-winning star of the original West Side Story Chita Rivera. This iconic star died January 30 at the age of 91.

The dimming of Broadway marquees will occur for the traditional one minute on Saturday, February 17 at 7:45 p.m./ET.

“Chita Rivera was Broadway royalty, and we will miss her with all our hearts,” said Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League. “For nearly seven decades she enthralled generations of audiences with her spellbinding performances and iconic roles. The triple threat actor, singer, and dancer leaves behind an incredible legacy of work for which she was honored with a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.”

Rivera’s Broadway career began in 1950 with Guys and Dolls. Her signature role came in 1957 when she played the original “Anita” in West Side Story. Other Broadway credits include Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, The Visit and The Rink. She was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, winning for The Rink in 1984 and Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1993. She received the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2018.

We give you the talented Ken Fallin’s drawing of Chita in The Visit.

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