Musical Review: Jagged Little Pill
Review by: Laurel Wang
Creator: Alanis Morissette
“Why are you so petrified of silence?” demands Frankie Healy (Lauren Chanel) on “All I Really Want”, the introductory number of Jagged Little Pill. However, the musical, adapted from Alanis Morrisette’s 1995 album of the same name, seems unable to answer its own question. Between eight principal characters, heavy, intertwining plotlines, and a powerful soundtrack, Jagged Little Pill leaves itself little time for the deliverance it requests.
Jagged Little Pill, currently on a nationwide tour, follows the picture-perfect Healy family of Connecticut suburbanites as they weather a multitude of crises that threaten to tear them apart. Yoga mom Mary Jane Healy (Heidi Blickenstaff) projects a do-it-all persona but struggles to hide her escalating opioid addiction and collapsing marriage with workaholic Steve (Chris Hoch). Her son, Nick’s (Dillon Klena), admission to Harvard is a glimmer of joy, but it leaves the adopted Frankie in her brother’s shadow. At school, Frankie finds herself drawn towards a mysterious new student, much to the dismay of her girlfriend, Jo (Jade McLeod). After Nick attends a party where his friend Bella (Allison Shepard) is assaulted, the Healys find their personal issues amplified to the point of clamorous collapse.
It’s difficult to ask a family drama to address issues as broad as sexual assault, homophobia, interracial adoption, addiction, gender dysphoria, disability, and gun violence. Jagged Little Pill readily embraces the responsibility, yet finds it difficult to handle them all with care. Attempts at addressing issues are raised — literally, in the form of prop protest signs — but rarely given the time or nuance they deserve. Similarly, plot lines are introduced before being immediately dropped as the next conflict arises. With all that it wants to say, the musical doesn’t have time to take a breath for clarity. Instead, it relies on surface-level actions to drill messaging in audiences’ heads.
Among the three plotlines, Bella’s assault is the most significant in polarizing the family. Allison Shepard delivers an evocative performance in “Predator” as the last of her doe-eyed innocence fractures. Similarly, “Forgiven,” Mary Jane’s reconsideration of her own past sexual assault, is a moment of stunning catharsis. There’s a reason why Jagged Little Pill works best during these moments of raw female emotion: most of the songs from the soundtrack were written when Morissette herself was a bitter, angst-filled young woman.
During the show’s strongest moments, such as Jade McLeod’s showstopping “You Oughta Know”, the performance roars with the raw rage of Jo’s teenage heartbreak. But it veers into awkward territory when trying to accommodate all its characters. It’s hard to imagine the buttoned-up Steve Healy airing out his relationship woes with a line like “I can feel so unsexy”, but Chris Hoch steps up to the unwieldy task.
Unsteady on its feet and at times muddled by its own ambition, Jagged Little Pill struggles to present a consistently impactful performance. The musical knows exactly what it wants to say but can’t quite translate Morrisette’s rock anthems on delivery. Still, its genuine heart and standout cast carry it all the way there.