“Jagged Little Pill” enjoys a quick run at the Fabulous Fox
By Joanne Fistere
“Jagged Little Pill” is a jukebox musical based mainly on Alanis Morissette’s 1995 debut album of the same name. It briefly premiered on Broadway in the dreaded Covid year 2019, and returned in 2021 to garner a record breaking 15 Tony nominations (winning for best book of a musical and best featured actress). It ran for a total of 171 performances.
The story revolves around the Healy family: on the surface the picture-perfect Connecticut household with stay-at-home mom MJ (Mary Jane), workaholic provider dad Steve, all American high school senior Nick, and 16-year-old adopted daughter of color Frankie. Of course, all is not as it seems as issues of gender identity, sexual assault, and substance abuse come to the forefront. Diablo Cody wrote the story, and it is captivating from the very start. The characters are intriguing and beautifully flawed, so much so that you are rooting for them with every misstep they take. I wish that Cody had stuck with telling the story of the characters and hadn’t tried to tackle multiple political issues of the day as well. As a result, there are a few moments when the narrative is stalled in order for (what feels like) a civics lesson to take place.
Musically this is a typical jukebox musical. This one falls under the category of a story being plastered on top of a catalog of existing songs. It feels a little bit like “Spring Awakening”, “Dear Evan Hansen”, and Alanis Morissette got together and had a baby born with an opiate addition. More often than not the songs feel forced into the scene and don’t really move the story forward. However, Morissette fans are all waiting for the hits such as “Ironic”, “Hand In My Pocket”, and “You Oughta Know” which certainly don’t disappoint, and are definitely high points even if they have little to do with any actual plot.
This Broadway tour has a phenomenal cast across the board. Julie Reiber as MJ leads it with just the right amount of vulnerability and humor. Teralin Jones, making her National Tour debut as Frankie, is a vocal powerhouse. The absolute standout for me is Jade McLeod as Jo, Frankie’s best friend and bisexual love interest. Jade gets most of the Morissette familiar tunes but makes them their own beautifully and heart wrenchingly.
Director Diane Paulus and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui do a masterful job rendering this tale. Early in act 1 there is a scene where MJ plays her day entirely backwards to the song “Smiling” which is so effective it looks like a film in reverse. The most captivating and gut-wrenching scene comes in act 2 with MJ’s overdose. Shelby Finnie plays MJs ghost dancer mirroring her movements during the song “Uninvited” and she is riveting in her choreography and emotions.
The band of 8, led by conductor Matt Doebler, sits above the stage and is flawless throughout. The sets by Riccardo Hernandez are well supported by video projections designed by Lucy Mackinnon and aid in moving the story along at a good pace. Sadly, the production as a whole loses a great deal when time and time again actors are in the dark because the follow spot operator can’t seem to find them.
“Jagged Little Pill” has something for everyone. And therein lies the problem. Attempting to confront sensitive issues such as gender identity, sexual abuse, and opiate addiction in a musical (or any medium for that matter) can be tricky. When you layer onto that race issues, white privilege, and which Alanis Morissette song is your favorite, well, all heck can break loose. There is a beautiful story at the foundation of this show but it is clouded over with too many causes and protests. To Ms. Cody I respectfully say “please pick a lane!”.
(As a side note, I am very sad to say that I can no longer keep silent about the follow spot at the Fabulous Fox. It is in no way fabulous. I find it distracting and unprofessional and unworthy of the Fabulous Fox. There, I said it.)
“Jagged Little Pill” is at the Fabulous Fox and runs through January 21st. Due to the use of strong language, mature themes, drug use and sexual violence that some may find upsetting, this show may not be suitable for all audiences. For tickets and information go to the Fabulous Fox website.