‘Jagged Little Pill’ wears its pain on its sleeve, and it’s an uplifting and clever new rock musical
A musical jukebox featuring the eerie but sometimes poetic music of Alanis Morissette, directed by Tony winner Diane Paulus, and featuring a book by Oscar winner Diablo Cody and a cast of energetic young dancers and several singers talented, may seem to cringe, but he is more than the sum of his parts.
It may be best if you don’t know what to expect when entering Little shredded pill, the musical that presents a narrative framework uniting the catalog of successes and some less known ballads of Alanis Morissette, with new arrangements by Tom Kitt. And all told, aside from critics and Alanis die-hards, very few people have seen this show. It had its Broadway premiere in the fall of 2019 and had a run – no doubt frustrating for producers and actors – aborted due to the pandemic. Running until March 2020, then attempting to reopen in late 2021 after receiving 15 Tony nominations and two Tony Awards (for Cody’s screenplay and for supporting player Lauren Patten), the show ran less than two weeks after the shutdown, closing after just 36 previews and 171 performances.
It’s been completely recast for its North American tour – and it opens with a separate cast next month in London – and to some extent that cast still feels a little green and wonky, even if it’s still very polite in his singing. They kicked off the tour last month in Las Vegas after just a few shows in Kentucky, and so the real proving ground only began with a two-week tour in Los Angeles that just wrapped up on October 2. . In an unusual move, the producers requested that the actors have two previews at the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco before the critics came, and Thursday night’s opening performance still showed some of the seams of an overview. Considering the complexity of the music, staging, lighting and choreography, this sort of thing goes without saying.
That said, it’s a terrific, exuberant, well-written and constructed show with plenty to recommend whether you consider yourself a Morissette superfan or not – although if you hate when his songs play on the radio, it’s worth probably best you stay one way.
The rest of the review will contain some spoilers, so if you’d rather know less than more, stop reading now.
lest you think that Little shredded pill is a show about teenage angst and romance, written by someone who is most famous for a movie about it, you should know that the main character of the series is actually middle-aged mother Mary Jane “MJ” Healy – played by the funny and ironic Heidi Blickenstaff, who has a powerful and rock belt that fits well with Morissette’s songs. . We quickly learn that MJ is a housewife from Connecticut who goes to Soul Cycle and brags about her son who got into Harvard, and who also has a pill addiction which is obviously going to knock her down at some point.
MJ is also the mother of Frankie (Lauren Chanel), a black girl adopted as a baby when she and her husband Steve (Chris Hoch) were unable to conceive a second time. His Nick (Dillon Klena) is a very successful golden boy in whose shadow Frankie has always had to live. Meanwhile, Frankie explores her sexuality with her friend Jo (Jade McLeod) and shows signs of being a budding young activist.
The high school plot involves Nick attending a party where his best friend ends up assaulting a drunk girl, and Frankie has a whirlwind romance with a new boy at school, Phoenix (Rishi Golani), a little behind her best friend’s back. /first love Jo, who is also in love with her. (The character, played here by a non-binary actor, was originally non-binary in the workshop, but was changed to cisgender and lesbian in the brief Broadway run.)
Each character is noticeably better realized, thanks to well-honed dialogue, than the average musical theater character ever is, and that’s one of the most satisfying aspects of the show. For every moment a Morissette song feels, perhaps, a little stuck in the story, there’s another where Cody’s spirit shines through and a character says something surprisingly funny, raw or profoundly credible. Yes, the show vacillates a bit between too woke and sincere on Broadway. But it works on many levels, with Morissette’s two-decade-old confessional alt-pop oeuvre replacing the overtly emotional songs that typically underpin musical theatre.
The best examples are “That I Would Be Good” – a song that was on a follow-up album to Morissette’s breakout Little shredded pill – which is sung as a moving trio between Frankie, Phoenix and Jo; and “Head Over Feet”, which becomes a touching ensemble number when sung by the entire main cast in turn. Morissette’s signature breakup ballad, ‘You Oughtta Know,’ meanwhile, becomes a barn-burner of an 11-hour number by a scorned Jo – and actor Jade McLeod just got the rock and roll and the chops of actor to do him justice, as Tony winner Lauren Patten clearly did, likely getting the trophy for that act alone. During last night’s performance he received a standing ovation and long applause from the crowd before the show could continue. (It should be noted that Blickenstaff has plenty of amazing moments as well, and the audience was already on their feet by the time she came out for her final encore.)
Paulus’ directorial hand usually brings a healthy dose of clever direction, but the most stunning comes in Act 1, with a song that’s one of two Morissette composed especially for the musical. In “Smiling”, we see MJ meeting friends after a spinning class, shopping and meeting an Oxy dealer in an alley, and the whole sequence is done in reverse after we see part of it in real time – with the song providing a circular backdrop that powerfully evokes MJ’s mind-numbing hamster wheel of addiction.
The ensemble is extremely strong, especially in terms of the contemporary/hip-hop dance they are required to do throughout, and keeping the ever-changing ensemble moving on and off stage. And it’s a show that lives and dies by this ensemble, with many numbers becoming group numbers before long – the energy is high, the choreography is intense and it makes for something enjoyable to watch from start to finish. end.
If things were momentarily noisy, or if a lighting signal seemed a little slow, those seemed like forgivable sins to me and nothing to complain about. And chances are most of that will be smoothed out within a week or two – although that cast is moving to Seattle on pretty short notice. So if you liked Dear Evan Hansenchances are you’ll like it too – it’s a lot like that show, but more female-centric and more danceable, and the issues it tackles are actually a bit more urgent and timely.
But you better be at least a bit like Alanis!
‘Jagged Little Pill’ plays through November 6 at the Golden Gate Theater. Find tickets here.