Tag Archives: theatre

The Edge of Seventeen (& Seventeen & Seventeen): Why is Nothing Original Anymore?

The Original Broadway Cast of Mean Girls the Musical (ph. Joan Marcus)

It’s 2023. You open your phone to the news that Mean Girls The Movie Musical is in production, a movie adaptation of the musical adaptation of the movie of the same name. Do you follow? With the oversaturation of unoriginal content on the Broadway stage and in the surrounding industry, it calls into question why nothing seems to be original anymore; just a retelling of a retelling in a new form. 

In recent years, you couldn’t browse the titles on Broadway at any given time and not recognize at least one or two from movies, books, albums or other properties that already existed. Jukebox Musicals like The Cher Show, Jagged Little Pill, Ain’t Too Proud, MJ, and so on or adaptations of films like Mean Girls, Beetlejuice, Moulin Rouge, and the like permeated the market, translate well known and well loved properties to the stage. The question this engenders, then, is why? What makes original work so difficult to bring to stage? Why are we turning to preexisting properties in order to create theatre when original storytelling ins built into the medium’s history?

This, of course, can be answered like any other question in the postmodern world: money. There is ascertain guarantee of capital that reiterations or revivals or adaptations carry with them, either from fans of the original work, or the nostalgia factory that revivals like Company or Jukebox musicals like MJ provide. Ticket sales, then, are practically promised, and ticket sales means the longevity of the musical and the ability for the theatre to keep its lights on. Of course, theatre is a market, an industry, and it would be ignorant to suggest that art needs to meet some kind of moral or artistic standard in order to validate it. Indeed, to suggest that musicals need to be original stories in order to be good is simply wrong, however it is fascinating to see just how quickly the market has shifted away from original work to adaptation.

And they can’t be blamed for this pattern, either. Shows that do present completely original material  are often overshadowed by their big-named competitors or the preexisting fans of translated media. As a result, though, we are also seeing the translation in the opposite direction. Musicals like Mean Girls, Wicked, In the Heights, The Prom and countless others are either in the works or already released, bridging the industries the other way, and likely amassing much more capital than a singular stage in a singular city could ever. 

The thesis of my entire existence is that capitalism is the death of art, and I stand by that, however I would be remiss not to acknowledge the incredible art that has resulted from these attempts at generating capital. Indeed adaptation and translations of content can be some of the most influential and poignant pieces of art, allowing for material to find new life and a new audience. It is a little sad, still, though, to see media become an echo chamber of art that once was, leaving little room for the potential at something new, waiting to be born.

No Queer Representation Without Queer Voices: Trans Discourse Surrounding Jagged Little Pill (2019)

Lauren Patten as Jo in Jagged Little Pill (ph. Matthew Murphy)

Theatre has long since prided itself on its acceptance and advocacy for queer people and the LGBT+ community, marking the industry with a number of queer individuals both in executive and creative positions. This acceptance has defined many aspects of the medium and the people who partake in it, however, like any industry, it is far from perfect. One of the most recent controversies surrounding the portrayal of trans characters and trans actors, specifically, is the 2019 jukebox musical Jagged Little Pill, a show constructed around songs from Alanis Morissette’s album of the same name. The character Jo, originated by Lauren Patten on Broadway, was the source of this controversy, particularly in regards to the apparent erasure of their trans identity through the process of the production’s move from Atlanta to Broadway. (For the purposes of this article, Jo will be referred to with they/them pronouns, however current productions of the show do insist that she is a female character who has “always been” female, despite this being empirically false.)

Indeed, scripts of previous iterations of the play as well as clips from its off-broadway run always and exclusively present Jo’s gender dysphoria as an overt aspect of their identity, having their climatic and emotional fallout with their best friend be based around this best friend misgendering them. In the Broadway version, this fallout has nothing to do with their gender identity, instead shifting the conflict to their interpersonal troubles rather than transphobic ones, and furthermore redirecting all of Jo’s struggles throughout the play away from their gender and leaning into their sexuality. 

But why? Why create a trans character whose transness is intrinsic to their story and then erase this massive aspect of their identity? This is a question many trans theatre fans have been asking, demanding a kind of explanation to the erasure and silencing of trans stories. The accepted answer is simply this: to keep a cis actor employed.

I don’t want to contribute to any hateful rhetoric directed at the actors themselves, but I think the executive team saw the work that the cis female actor put into originating the role of Jo, and made the decision to make Jo cis in order to remove the responsibility they would have to re-cast the character as a trans actor. It is incredibly baffling that a production that seems to so strongly stand for justice for marginalized individuals would willfully remove a trans storyline in order to benefit cis narratives, but the executive team has not presented any alternative to this reasoning, instead evading answering the question or addressing the issue by purporting Jo to have always been intended to be a cis woman. 

More than this, though, for a show that ostensibly takes pride in depicting marginalized people and disengaging with harmful rhetoric such as rape culture and addiction stigma, its treatment of other LGBT+ characters is also incredibly problematic. Not only are trans narratives being overshadowed by cis means, but the only bisexual character in the play is presented, of course, as the stereotypical cheater, one who engages in sexual relations with multiple people (of different genders) at the same time. These harmful biphobic and transphobic rhetorics that this play leans into for plot purposes directly contradicts the show’s message of inclusivity and amplification of marginalized voices. No longer are they stories about young people making mistakes, but stories that echo harmful rhetoric for the communities involved. 

As such, Jagged Little Pill becomes the topic of discourse surrounding portrayals of LGBT+ narratives on stage, an unfortunate and unforgiving misgiving that contradicts the industry marker of inclusivity. My opinion on the inherent transphobia of the Jagged Little Pill transfer from Atlanta to Broadway is that it is something that necessitates a response from the creative and productive teams. The show’s transphobia and minimization of trans voices is the result of intentional actions to peddle cis success, brought to light by many trans voices, and it demands acknowledgement at the very least.