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How good can a jukebox musical hope to be? Only modestly, in my experience. Even when the book is well-written, it typically fails to mesh with the songs, which were composed before the fact and thus have no organic relationship to the plot. Nor do they drive the action of the show: Each one is a free-standing entity which says its piece and stops, stopping the show with it. This latter problem is harder to solve if you’re trying to turn an album into a musical. Unless the individual songs are already “chapters” in a larger story, the results almost always lack dramatic momentum (and also tend to be short on musical variety)….
All of which brings us to the Broadway transfer of “Jagged Little Pill,” which originated at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., and whose marquee declares it to be “inspired by” Alanis Morissette’s grunge-flavored pop album about teenage love and life. Most of the songs, co-written by Ms. Morissette and Glen Ballard, come from the album, whose release in 1995 led Rolling Stone to dub Ms. Morissette “Queen of Alt-Rock Angst.” The stage version, by contrast, is a cliché-prone chronicle of suburban spiritual emptiness whose book is by Diablo Cody (“Juno”) and whose characters include a “perfect” mother (Elizabeth Stanley) who is secretly addicted to opiates and her black, bisexual adopted daughter (Celia Rose Gooding), who is…well, angst-ridden.
The results play like a cross between “American Beauty” and “Next to Normal,” and if that notion appeals to you, then you might enjoy “Jagged Little Pill.” Me, I found it leaden with earnestness. Teen angst, lest we forget, isn’t all that interesting when seen from the outside…
* * *Read the whole thing here.
A video featurette about the stage version of Jagged Little Pill: