“Jagged Little Pill” barrels into tonight’s Tony Awards with 15 nominations, more than any other show — but also with its producers confronting two controversies that have prompted scrutiny and an apology.
The show, a musical featuring Alanis Morissette songs and a script that explores a host of social issues, is one of three contenders for best musical, and is a leading contender in the best featured actress and best book categories. It plans to resume performances on Broadway next month.
But in the run-up to the Tonys the show’s producers have found themselves responding to criticism over how depictions of a character’s gender identity evolved as the show developed, and over the accusation by a former member of the cast who said they were asked to delay a surgical procedure. (The Tony voting period ended in March, before that accusation became public.)
On Saturday, the show’s lead producers, Vivek J. Tiwary, Arvind Ethan David and Eva Price, said that they had hired an employment lawyer to look into an accusation from the former cast member, Nora Schell, who uses the pronouns they and them, and who said the production had asked them to delay a procedure to remove vaginal cysts. The union representing stage performers, Actors’ Equity, also said it would investigate; Schell said a union vice president was among those who mishandled the medical concerns.
The statement from the producers came a little more than a week after the musical had issued an apology for its response to concerns about the gender identity of one of the show’s main characters, Jo, who is played by Lauren Patten, a nominee for best featured actress in a musical.
During the show’s pre-Broadway run, some people saw Jo as a rare example of nonbinary representation in a major musical; when the show then transferred to Broadway, some of those fans were disappointed with how the role had evolved.
“In Jo, we set out to portray a character on a gender expansive journey without a known outcome,” the lead producers said. “Throughout the creative process, as the character evolved and changed, between Boston and Broadway, we made mistakes in how we handled this evolution. In a process designed to clarify and streamline, many of the lines that signaled Jo as gender nonconforming, and with them, something vital and integral, got removed from Jo’s character journey.”
The producers said they had “hired a new dramaturgical team (which includes nonbinary, transgender and BIPOC representation), to revisit and deepen the script.”
Schell, who was a member of the ensemble when the musical opened in late 2019, voiced their concerns about backstage treatment on Twitter.
“During previews for the Broadway run of JAGGED LITTLE PILL I was intimidated, coerced and forced by multiple higher ups to put off CRITICAL AND NECESSARY surgery to remove growths from my vagina that were making me anemic,” Schell wrote.
The producers responded with their own statement, declaring themselves “deeply troubled” by the claims and pledging to “take this matter very seriously.”
“Broadway shows are by their very nature collaborative human efforts, so there is nothing more important to us than our people,” they said. “We are committed to continuing to nurture a work environment where everyone feels valued and respected.”
On Saturday, one of the show’s Tony-nominated stars, Celia Rose Gooding, said on Twitter that she was concerned by the allegations. Responding to Schell’s tweet, she wrote, “this is unacceptable. nobody should have to put off necessary medical treatment for a show, ever.”
And, in a more general tweet bidding farewell to the show, which she is leaving for a role in “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” she wrote that she “cannot ignore the harm Jagged has done to the trans and nonbinary community.”