Jagged Little Pill review – Alanis Morissette’s musical has moments of silliness and transcendence | Musical comedies

Jagged Little Pill, the third album by Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette, has unblocked us.

Certified 14 times platinum in Australia and topped the Aria album charts in 1996, it’s packed with anthemic, cleverly introspective and occasionally playful rock tracks. The album gives voice to Morissette’s inner life with such acute emotional insight that her audiences – especially women and those in conflict with polite society – have found a soundtrack for their struggle.

Nowhere was that clearer than in You Oughta Know, the album’s alt-rock masterpiece that launches a long-suppressed rage at its subject matter with glorious, full-bodied engagement. This requires a settling of accounts.

More than 20 years later, songs (mostly) from that album, some in full and some in fragments, have found new life in a musical written by Diablo Cody (who wrote the movie Juno) and directed by Diane Paulus (although Leah Howard is the Resident Director in Australia). Now they are the music of the Healys, an upper-middle-class American family.

Mary Jane (Natalie Bassingthwaighte), a seemingly picture-perfect mother with an opiate addiction and long-avoided trauma, struggles to stay the course. Her husband, Steve (Tim Draxl), is a workaholic with a porn addiction. Her Nick (Liam Head) is a golden child who lacks emotional maturity. And then there’s Frankie (Emily Nkomo), the girl activist.

Liam Head, Emily Nkomo, Natalie Bassingthwaighte and Tim Draxl as Connecticut’s Healy family. Photographer: Daniel Boud

Frankie, who is black and queer (she and her “best friend” Jo, played by Maggie McKenna, kiss while Mary Jane rhapsodizes elsewhere about platonic girlfriends) is irritated by her mother’s refusal to commit: insisting she can’t see color; dismissing Frankie’s activism as a fad; and refuse to call Jo, who is non-binary, by the name that makes them most comfortable.

When Nick’s classmate Bella (Grace Miell) is mugged at a party, the two Healy children attend, and the chasm between Frankie’s pursuit of justice and Mary Jane’s preferred method of ignoring a problem becomes a chasm. There’s nothing to do but sing.

Jagged Little Pill desperately wants to be meaningful, tackling more social issues than he can fairly balance (misogyny, racism, transracial adoption, transphobia, classism, disability rights) while needing to play all the hits he can. you would expect to hear in a musical jukebox. It’s an exploration of trauma that tries to touch so many hearts that it ultimately risks touching none.

A plethora of protest signs held aloft in the first act look like a cynical setting for sociopolitical relevance. The Broadway production, of which this is a replica, failed to act on these values ​​behind the scenes.

Little shredded pill
Jagged Little Pill desperately wants to be meaningful. Photographer: Daniel Boud

He also doesn’t seem to trust his own soul, that is, Morissette’s catalog of hits. Tom Kitt’s orchestrations tend to work against the grain of the material, cutting up songs and spreading them out while layering them with more conventionality than necessary.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s choreography transforms the whole into a witness choir of young people who are not afraid to take up space and dance their hearts out, but they also crush intimate moments, as if the songs themselves were not enough to make us feel. It’s already theatrical music with a point of view, but the show rarely lets anyone hold and own that point of view, especially when soloing. (It also turns silly every time Healy’s men are given their own lyrics; it’s hard to believe the music belongs to them.)

Yet there are moments that transcend.

When Jo finds out that Frankie has seen someone else – a white, cis, conventionally attractive dude – we watch him crumble and then rebuild with the only song possible, the musical’s gem, perhaps his whole interest. : You Oughta Know. McKenna creates a journey with her, the most clarifying of the series, and the song rips out of their throats and lands in our guts.

Emily Nkomo and the cast
“Emily Nkomo is charismatic and complements Frankie’s youthful spirit with the promise of a roar.” Photographer: Daniel Boud

At that point, it doesn’t matter that Jo is in the background of the story too often or that Frankie doesn’t count the harm she’s caused. All that matters is this song in good hands, which ignites us all. McKenna received a legitimate mid-show standing ovation on opening night; later, at the call of the curtain, it was their salute that forced the majority of the audience at the Royal Theater to rise.

Nothing else can touch this moment, but there are instances where it comes close: Bassingthwaighte’s performance is bold, his choices smart and compelling. Nkomo is charismatic and complements Frankie’s youthful spirit with the promise of a roar. Miell refuses to betray Bella’s story with easy drama, delivering a beautifully judged performance, all too often in the background. In the band, it’s Emma Ford’s drumming that propels us into new sensations.

Jagged Little Pill means so well. It works so hard. Its cast is a delight. If only it wasn’t such a frustrating gesture. We shouldn’t be able to see through.

Jagged Little Pill plays at the Theater Royal in Sydney until December 19. It opens at the Comedy Theater in Melbourne on January 2 and the Crown Theater in Perth on May 14 before returning to the Theater Royal in Sydney from July 9.