Lauren Patten's Tony Win For 'Jagged Little Pill' Slammed Amid Backstage Controversy

Lauren Patten thanked her “trans and nonbinary friends and colleagues” Sunday while accepting the Tony Award for best featured actress in a musical for her performance in “Jagged Little Pill.”

Many Broadway fans, however, felt Patten would have done better to reject the honor outright.

“Jagged Little Pill,” which opened on Broadway in December 2019, uses songs from Alanis Morissette’s 1995 album of the same name to relay a 21st-century parable about mental health, sexuality, racism and addiction. Patten stars as Jo, a tormented teen whose chilling version of “You Oughta Know” is the musical’s most buzzed-about moment

“We are in the middle of a reckoning in our industry,” Patten told the Tonys crowd in her acceptance speech. “First and foremost, I want to thank my trans and nonbinary friends and colleagues who have engaged with me in difficult conversations, that have joined me in dialogue about my character Jo.”

“I believe that the future for the change we need to see on Broadway comes from these kinds of conversations that are full of honesty and empathy and respect for our shared humanity,” she continued. “And I am so excited to see the action that comes from them, and to see where that leads our future as theater artists in this country.”

As acclaimed as Patten’s performance is, however, her win comes amid a flurry of controversy for “Jagged Little Pill.” Earlier on Sunday, the Actors’ Equity Association announced it was launching an investigation after two of the show’s cast members, Nora Schell and Celia Rose Gooding, claimed that the production workplace was harmful to transgender and nonbinary people.

Schell, a nonbinary actor who uses they/them pronouns, claimed Friday on social media that members of the show’s creative team forced them to delay “critical and necessary surgery to remove growths from my vagina that were making me anemic” early in the musical’s run. That same day, Gooding announced that she would not return to the show after the cast’s Tony Awards performance, citing “the harm ‘Jagged’ has done to the trans and nonbinary community.”

On Sunday, actor Antonio Cipriano also announced he was leaving the musical. “As a member of the [Broadway] community, I recognize my privilege and take responsibility for being part of the harm caused,” he tweeted.

Not surprisingly, news of Patten’s win didn’t sit well with many viewers on social media.

Was kind of hoping they would play off Lauren Patten before she even got to the stage.

— OnStage Blog (@OnstageBlog) September 26, 2021

that lauren patten would accept that award just bears testament to the fact that no amount of “accountability conversations” can change how she believes her entitlement to play that role is more important than what any trans person feels

— raya (@intoanewlife) September 26, 2021

if lauren patten actually believed what she said, she would drop out of the show and decline the award.

— Gage Tarlton (@gaygetarlton) September 26, 2021

Lauren Patten is so talented and I was mesmerized when I saw her in JLP. But it SUCKED to see her get up on that stage and take that award when there are trans and non-binary actors who will never get CLOSE to the Tony’s BECAUSE OF THIS SITUATION.

— angelina 🌱 (@angelina_umb) September 26, 2021

In addition to the recent allegations, “Jagged Little Pill” previously sparked the ire of the nonbinary community by changing Jo from a gender-nonconforming character to a cisgender woman as the musical moved to Broadway after a Boston run.

Producers Vivek Tiwary, Arvind Ethan David and Eva Price initially denied changing Jo’s gender identity, but they later acknowledged they’d “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 wrote in a Sept. 17 statement. “We should have protected and celebrated the fact that the non-binary audience members saw in Jo a bold, defiant, complex, and vibrant representation of their community.” 

In a Sept. 18 Instagram Live interview with actor Shakina Nayfack, Patten revealed she’d considered leaving “Jagged Little Pill” amid the furor surrounding her character. Ultimately, she said, she wanted to “be part of the reopening of the show on Broadway,” and vowed that the character of Jo would be played by trans and nonbinary actors in the future.