NEW YORK — “Jagged Little Pill,” the humorlessly banal new musical fashioned out of Alanis Morissette’s agonized songbook, belongs to that burgeoning category of musical theater that cynically imagines any cycle of pop melodies can be repurposed for Broadway with the addition of a serviceable story.
Blond, square-jawed dad (Sean Allan Krill) works so many billable hours at the law firm that he barely knows his family. Blond, neurotic mom (Elizabeth Stanley, in an unfortunate stringy wig) pops the titular illicit meds to anesthetize herself from frustrated ennui. Chiseled Harvard-bound son (Derek Klena) marinates in self-loathing over his failure to halt a friend’s sexual crime, and clear-eyed African American daughter (Celia Rose Gooding) nurses the resentments she has accumulated, having been adopted by a well-meaning if culturally clueless upper-middle-class white couple.
I could go on about the soapy predictability of “Jagged Little Pill,” which had its official opening Thursday at the Broadhurst Theatre, with much of the cast intact from its 2018 premiere at American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., where Paulus is artistic director. But at least the show’s got Lauren Patten, of “Fun Home” noteworthiness, as a teenager in love with Gooding’s Frankie. Patten’s Jo power-belts the evening’s best (and best-known) number, “You Oughta Know.” (Whether the mid-performance standing ovation it prompts is spontaneous or initiated by a few rehearsed partisans is unclear; in either case, its spirit and volume notwithstanding, the interlude is not exactly on a par with “Gypsy’s” “Rose’s Turn.”)
Mounted on a pair of wagons, the eight-member band glides on and off Riccardo Hernández’s conceptual set — as sterile as the affluent Connecticut enclave it suggests — to remind us of the music’s rocking-out ancestry. Morissette’s songs, with contributions by Glen Ballard (and “additional music” by Michael Farrell and Guy Sigsworth) all feel of a piece. Their narrow emotional range, though, all angsty or warmly earnest, seems better suited to a college mixer than as the amplifying furnishings for two hours and 40 minutes of winding exposition.
The wit in the book, by “Juno” screenwriter Cody, is limited to such back-of-the-hand satirical devices as a chorus of pampered suburban moms, fresh from Pilates classes and eager to cut Stanley’s compulsive Mary Jane down to size. (For a genuinely devastating dissection of embittered entitlement, queue up Stephen Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” on your smartphone sometime.) Paulus attempts some other enlivening gimmicks, such as staging Mary Jane’s pill-buying song, “Smiling,” in reverse; you may also recall a variation of this idea in the Eliza “rewind” segment of “Hamilton.”
Stanley mounts an admirably personable campaign in favor of Mary Jane’s authenticity; she may be the slightly better adjusted sister of Diana, the psychologically challenged mom in “Next to Normal.” Krill and Klena are perfectly adequate, playing stock American male types. Gooding is an appealing communicator of the sense of displacement a young black woman might experience as she grows into adulthood in an all-white environment. (Say, that’s not a half-bad central idea for a whole musical.)
Your own sense of displacement may extend to the work here of choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, who adds spasms of voguing and jerky and slithery movement that do, at times, correspond in literal ways to Morissette’s lyrics. As to whether they have anything to say about uptight rich people in a button-down corner of Connecticut, I am — as with so much of “Jagged Little Pill” — unconvinced.
Jagged Little Pill, music by Alanis Morissette and Glen Ballard, lyrics by Morissette, book by Diablo Cody. Directed by Diane Paulus. Choreography, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui; additional music, Michael Farrell and Guy Sigsworth; orchestrations, Tom Kitt; sets, Riccardo Hernández; costumes, Emily Rebholz; lighting, Justin Townsend; sound, Jonathan Deans. With Antonio Cipriano, Kathryn Gallagher, Logan Hart. About 2 hours 40 minutes. $59-$399. At Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St., New York. 212-239-6200. telecharge.com.