Jagged Little Pill Explodes with Alanis Morissette’s Pop Musical at National Theatre

Jagged Little Pill Explodes with Alanis Morissette’s Pop Musical at National Theatre

Jagged Little Pill
Broadway at The National
Jordan Wright
March 15, 2023
Special To The Zebra

(L to R) Heidi Blickenstaff, Allison Sheppard and Jena VanElslander (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2022)

 Inspired by the seminal rock album of the same name by seven-time Grammy Award winner Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill, the Tony and Grammy Award-winning bio-musical, opened in DC at the National Theatre this week. It stars one of my favorite Broadway actresses, Heidi Blickenstaff (as Mary Jane Healey) who played the lead when it reopened on Broadway last fall. You may remember her in the role of Katherine in Disney’s Freaky Friday when it debuted at Signature Theatre before moving on to Broadway.

Broadway legend Chris Hoch plays the dad, Steve Healy. But even without such heavy hitters, this company is on fire. For these power singers (thirteen are in the chorus!) and gifted dancers, it’s the perfect showcase for these young and talented unknowns. Twenty-three iconic numbers give the cast a chance to shine. And, shine, they do! The show is packed with high energy, romance, and real-life drama, addressing issues of drug addiction and teen angst in a relatable way.

Jena VanElslander and Company of JAGGED LITTLE PILL (Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2022)

Mary Jane lives in the shadow of her two kids, Nick and Frankie, hiding her addiction to opioids from everyone. A pill-popping, hot yoga and spin-cycle-loving suburban mom, her gal pals think she’s the perfect mother (“Smiling” by Mary Jane and Company) when underneath the smooth veneer she’s scoring pills in a dark alley. Adopted daughter Frankie (Lauren Chanel) is Black, thinks she’s gay and doesn’t know where she fits in. To help her cope (“Ironic” sung by Frankie and Jo) girlfriend, Jo (Jade McLeod) tells her, “Your mom is one salad away from a psychotic break.”

When Nick (Dillon Lena) gets into Harvard, praise from friends and family rains down on the prodigal son until he experiences a wild night at a friend’s party and he is called upon to be a witness to date rape. Will he say he didn’t see anything, or will he step up despite his mom’s begging him to stay silent? There are powerful life lessons drawn from the differing perspectives of both parents and teens.

Dillon Klena and company (Photo/Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2022)

Watch for McLeod’s huge number in Act II “You Oughta Know” that brought the house down, Chanel’s big number in “Unprodigal Daughter”, the slo-mo dance in “Uninvited” when Mary Jane reflects on her younger self and Allison Sheppard as Bella singing “Predator”, reminiscent of a particular Senate confirmation hearing.

A terrific score by Morissette and Glen Ballard showcases some fantastic new and veteran voices with exciting choreography by Movement Director Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui to send this musical into orbit.

Highly recommended for teens and adults.

Heidi Blickenstaff and the company of JAGGED LITTLE PILL (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2022)

With Jason Goldston as Andrew; Rishi Golani as Phoenix; Jordan Leigh McCaskill as Pharmacist/Therapist; Camella Taitt as Barista; Bligh Voth as Jill/Teacher; Delaney Brown as Denise; Jena VanElslander as Courtney; Daniel Thimm as Drug Dealer; and Lee H. Alexander as Doctor. Cydney Kutcipal, Lee H. Alexander, Justin Scott Brown and Kei Tsuruharatani fill out a thirteen-person chorus.

Director Diane Paulus; Book by Diablo Cody; additional music by Michael Farrell & Guy Sigsworth; Scenic Design by Riccardo Hernández; Costume Design by Emily Rebholz; Lighting design by Justin Townsend; Sound Design by Jonathan Deans.

Through March 26th at the National Theatre 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information visit www.BroadwayAtTheNational.com or in person at the box office.

Waitress ~ The National Theatre

Jordan Wright
May 17, 2018 

I now know why New York critics went gaga over Waitress.  It earned Tony nominations for Best Musical and Best Original Score in 2016, won a Drama Desk Award, and an Outer Critics Award too.  This sweet, funny, big-hearted musical by composer Sara Bareilles continues its run on Broadway with its first national tour here in DC at the National Theatre.  How apropos!

Desi Oakley, Charity Angel Dawson and Lenne Klingaman in the National Tour of WAITRESS – Photo Credit Joan Marcus

Bareilles, if you recall, became successful as a singer/songwriter/actress and New York Times best-selling author.  Nominated for six Grammys, the California native has composed a score loaded with catchy tunes and tender ballads transforming the rather dark original movie version into a feel-good musical tailor made for foodies.  It’s Fried Green Tomatoes meets Nine to Five with the added attraction of a musical score.

Nick Bailey and Desi Oakley in the National Tour of WAITRESS – Photo Credit Joan Marcus

Set in a diner in a sleepy Southern town, waitress and amateur piemaker Jenna (Desi Oakley) discovers she is pregnant, just when she was planning to leave her abusive husband Earl (Nick Bailey).  Her co-workers and gal pals, Dawn (Lenne Klingaman) and Becky (Charity Angel Dawson), and their boss Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin) try to keep her spirits up in spite of cranky customers and Earl’s insults.  “You’re no Sara Lee,” he tells her as she secretly makes plans to enter the state pie contest.

Maiesha McQueen, Desi Oakley and Bryan Fenkart in the National Tour of WAITRESS – Photo Credit Joan Marcus

Soon Jenna meets the handsome gynecologist Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart) with whom she stealthily starts an affair.  Meanwhile addled-headed Dawn and wise-cracking Becky are busy looking for Mr. Right.  Soon Dawn finds Ogie, a poetry-spouting accountant á la Don Knotts who only eats white food and plays Paul Revere in reenactments.  He’s a perfect match to her Betsey Ross fantasies.  Recreating his Broadway role, scene-stealer Jeremy Morse plays Ogie.  Veteran Broadway actor Larry Marshall plays Joe, the diner’s octogenarian owner and perennial grouch.

Desi Oakley and Larry Marshall in the National Tour of WAITRESS – Photo Credit Joan Marcus

Standout numbers by Dawson in “I Didn’t Plan It”, Morse with “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” which brings the house down, and Oakley’s rendition of “She Used to Be Mine”, a tender ballad.

Ryan G. Dunkin and the Cast of the National Tour of WAITRESS – Photo Credit Joan Marcus

So, if it’s pie you want, be it ‘White Knuckle Cream Pie’, ‘Betrayed By My Eggs Pie’, ‘Mermaid Marshmallow Pie’, ‘Doesn’t Want The Baby Pie’ or any other of Jenna’s quirkily-named pies, you will love this sunny, funny, honey of a show.  Just remember sugar, butter, eggs are just the start.

Highly recommended.

Breaking news from the diner!  Six-time Grammy nominee and composer of Waitress, Sara Bareilles will be at the National Theatre to host “Cast Album Karaoke” following the 8pm show this Saturday, May 19.  Limited seats for that performance remain. Interested audience members at that show will be chosen at random for the chance to sing any song from Waitress on the National Theatre’s historic stage accompanied by the show’s band.  It’s the first time Sara Bareilles has hosted a post-show “Cast Album Karaoke” during the national tour of Waitress.

Two familiar faces from Washington, D.C.’s WUSA9 will host “Cast Album Karaoke” on Friday, May 25 and Friday, June 1: “Get Up DC!” host Reese Waters (May 25) and Andi Hauser from “Great Day Washington” (June 1).

Book by Jessie Nelson, orchestrations by Sara Bareilles, directed by Diane Paulus, conducted by Jenny Cartney, choreographed by Lorin Latarro, Set Design by Scott Pask, Costume Design by Suttirat Anne Larlarb, Lighting Design by Ken Billington and Sound Design by Jonathan Deans.

With Grace Stockdale as Mother, Jim Hogan as Father, Maiesha McQueen as Nurse Norma, Kyra Kennedy as Francine, and Alexa M. Lueck and Eva Pieja as Lulu.  With ensemble members Mark Christine, Donterrio Johnson, and Gerianne Pérez.

Through June 3rd, 2018 at The National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets call 202.628.6161 or visit online.

Something Rotten! ~ National Theatre

Jordan Wright
February 8, 2018

Photo Credit ~ © Jeremy Daniel

Loaded with top Broadway stars, Something Rotten! has got it all including actors who can sing, tap, rap and rock out up to the rafters.  Welcome to the Renaissance from the team of composers/lyricists Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw with book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell.  It’s utterly delicious.

From L: Blake Hammond and Rob McClure. ~ © Jeremy Daniel

Down-on-their-luck brothers Nick (Rob McClure) and Nigel (Josh Grisetti) Bottom are eager to one-up Shakespeare (rock star actor Adam Pascal) with a show-stopper of their own creation.  Nigel’s the writer and sensitive one falling for poetry-loving Portia (Autumn Hurlbert).  Nick and his feminist wife Bea (Maggie Lakis) support Nigel’s aspirations.  Pilfering from his wife’s savings, Nick seeks out Nostradamus (the marvelous Blake Hammond) to divine a fresh idea for a play.  The seer predicts it will be musicals.  “Song and dance and sweet romance.  No talking.  All of the dialogue is sung,” he assures.  Convinced the idea will trump anything the Sultan of Sonnet could pen, Nick imagines a troupe of Rockettes-in-codpieces-with-giant-ostrich feathers song and dance.  The show’s backer, Shylock, wonders if “Ham Omelette: The Musical” will sell to the masses.  Notwithstanding Shylock’s doubts, critics agreed when this hilarious musical comedy opened on Broadway nominating it no less than 34 times to garner two wins.

Autumn Hurlbert and Josh Grisetti. ~ © Jeremy Daniel

Groan-worthy wordplay, over-the-top pastiches, and silly costumes abound.  Eggs make an appearance.  Naturally.  It’s a mash-up of Shakespeare’s greatest quips meet the best of Broadway musical numbers in a crazy ass plot that fills the stage with ye olde rock and roll and vaudeville razzmatazz.  Broadway babies will recognize snippets from Cats, The Sound of Music, Music Man, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof and more (even Mary Poppins makes the cut) all sung and danced by a terrific cast.

Adam Pascal and the cast of the Something Rotten! ~ Photo credit © Jeremy Daniel

We need this. You need this.  Go!

Highly recommended.

Through February 18th, 2018 at The National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets call 202.628.6161 or visit online.

Dame Edna at The National Theatre

Jordan Wright
April 22, 2015
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts

A fresh breeze blew into town last night and she was wearing rhinestone-encrusted cat eye glasses out to there, and a hot pink fringe gown glittering with Swarovski crystals.  Yes, you guessed it – – the internationally infamous, dearly beloved, barb-slinging insultress known familiarly as Dame Edna.  Trashing more Washington politicos than the Drudge Report at election time, the saucy senior can take down Jesus and the apostles in one slanderous swoop, “they wore the 50 shades of gray badly,” she sniped to an audience of devotees.

 Dame Edna

Dame Edna – Photo credit Craig Schwartz

Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye – The Farewell Tour (A meditation on loss, gender, climate change, gay marriage and ethnicity) takes on these weighty issues with showbiz and razzmatazz.  Barry Humphries, who first channeled Mrs. Edna Everage in 1955 in Melbourne, Australia, is no stranger to the double-entendre.  A veteran of Broadway and London’s West End theatres, the Tony Award-winning performer has been dazzling and dishing with faithful fans for over half a century.

Directed by Simon Phillips, the glitzy two-acter opens with film clip cameos of Hollywood celebs.  Stars as disparate as Charlton Heston, Kelly Osbourne and Hugh Jackman describe their run-ins with the naughty grandma as the glam goddess tells tales of her shabby Australian past, her dysfunctional children and her husband’s prostate “murmur”.  Hoofing is provided by four leggy dancers who surround the mauve-haired wonder with giant purple ostrich fans.  Move over Florence Ziegfeld!

Dame Edna with giant purple ostrich fans - Photo credit Craig Schwartz

Dame Edna with giant purple ostrich fans – Photo credit Craig Schwartz

Jonathan Tessero is the production’s Musical Director & Onstage Accompanist and Wayne Barker and Andrew Ross provide the tunes for the caterwauling songstress who describes herself as “the quintessence of kindness”.  Never have scandal and sarcasm been such great pals.

In the second act choreographer, Eve Prideaux, turns to Bollywood as Dame Edna describes her spiritual adventures in an ashram.  “It’s a trailer park for the soul,” she moans as the dancers swirl around her in gold-edged saris.

Dame Edna and Bollywood Dancers - Photo credit Craig Schwartz

Dame Edna and Bollywood Dancers – Photo credit Craig Schwartz

But the real howls come when, as in years past, she singles out unsuspecting audience members.  Claiming to be clairvoyant she tells one, “I believe in past lives and you look as if you might have been something.”  Ouch!  It hurts so good.  To a group of elderly audience members she calls out, “Oh, the seniors are still here! Someone must have topped off their medication.”  The zingers fly fast and furiously.  You gotta keep up.  She is as outrageous as she is captivating and as endearing as a child with Asberger’s (her diagnosis, not mine).

Highly recommended for death-defying irreverence.

In town for a limited run at The National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20004.  Performance Schedule is as follows.  Tuesday, April 21st – Thursday, April 23rd at 7:30pm, Friday, April 24th at 8pm, Saturday, April 25th at 2pm and 8pm and Sunday, April 26th at 4pm.  For tickets and information call 202 628-6161 or visit thenationaldc.com or www.dameednafarewell.com