“Jagged Little Pill” is A Moving Modern Musical
Review by Liz Eichler
Get tickets ASAP to Jagged Little Pill. Seriously. Presented at the Aronoff only until April 2, part of the Broadway in Cincinnati series. If you want to be moved by powerful voices, be amazed by fluid dance movements, laugh, and maybe feel uncomfortable as the story hits home, Jagged Little Pill is for you. The energy of the crowd at both intermission and after the show can attest – it is a positive and powerful evening. You may be surprised by how much you love this modern musical.
You’ve likely heard the music, the album “Jagged Little Pill” was released in 1995 and sold over 33 million copies worldwide. Lyrics are by the award winning Canadian singer-songwriter with the unique voice, Alanis Morissette. Music is by Morissette and Glen Ballard. The Book is by Diablo Cody, who is an expert on teen angst. Jagged Little Pill won the Tony for Best Book of a Musical in 2020. Director Diane Paulus, keeps this fresh. She adeptly tells the story using voice, spirit, and body.
Jagged Little Pill is the story of Mary Jane (MJ) Healy, who takes pride in her “perfect” life and family, until it isn’t perfect, when long buried trauma and a car accident lead to opioid addiction, and eventually an overdose. Mom life is juxtaposed with high school life showing the hills and valleys of each. It is not always a perfect life in the Connecticut suburbs.
MJ’s adopted daughter, Frankie, (great job by Lauren Chanel) is an enigma for her. Frankie is black, the rest of the family is white. They feel they don’t understand each other or stick up for each other. Frankie is drawn to social activism, being the voice for the voiceless. She’s in a love triangle with Jo (jaw-dropping Jade McLeod) and Phoenix (charismatic Rishi Golani), exploring her sexuality as well as her place in the family. MJ’s son Nick (solid Dillon Klena) is the big man on his high school campus, and the pride of the family. He decides to go to a party, and his friend Andrew (Jason Goldston–who looks a lot like Steve) rapes a passed-out Bella (Allison Sheppard who looks a lot like MJ, and also is a powerful alto).
The Understudy is the Star
Understudy Bligh Voth nails it as MJ, normally played by Heidi Blickenstaff. Voth’s performance is the emotional core of the show. The character is written so believably. She is the heart and engine of a family, but a stay-at-home suburban mom with a workaholic husband, Steve (Chris Hoch). Voth has a powerful voice, amazing timing. She moves so well with her dancer alter-ego in the memorable “Uninvited.” She and her dancer writhe on and off the couch in one of the most poetic overdose scenes I’ve witnessed.
We also see MJ falling apart in “Smiling,” moving through the day backwards. Very effective directorial choice during the lyrics:
“This is my first wave of my white flag
This is the sound of me hitting bottom
This, my surrender, if that’s what you call it
In the anatomy of my crash”-“Smiling” by Alanis Morissette
The Dancers are Amazing
All of the alter-ego dancers are incredible, especially in “Wakeup.” Kudos especially to Frankie’s and MJ’s. Fantastic choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.
My brief notes for Act Two show how I was so caught up in the action. ”MJ is amazing!” “‘You Oughta Know’ gets an extended ovation” “Uninvited” is melting-off-the-couch good!” “Isn’t it ‘ironic’ we’re in a theatre with so much amazing music and dancing on stage you want to move!”
The Band Rocks
The tour band (Matt Doebler is Music Director and Conductor) sits above the stage, at times the music is quiet and eerie, other times it is in-your-face rock concert style. With colorful and concert lighting (Justin Townsend) and edge-of-stage-singing this is a modern musical. The opening numbers were a bit garbled, but by the third song, a great version of “One Hand in My Pocket” by McLeod, the mic level may have been adjusted as the key singers didn’t get lost in the band.
The set (Riccardo Hernandez) is sliders and riveting projections, with additional set pieces that move smoothly, propelled by rollers or feet. The projections and video (Lucy Mackinnon) vacillate intriguingly between crisp and blurry, home, school or office, with a breathtaking inside of an old Connecticut cathedral. Clothing (Emily Rebholz) runs the gamut from 90’s grunge to modern (Gen Z loves to thrift!).
Tickets to Jagged Little Pill
Jagged Little Pill starts and ends with writing the perfect family Christmas card, but the year in between changes the definition of perfect. So relatable. Get your tickets at Cincinnatiarts.org.
You Oughta Know…
“You Oughta Know” that this musical is recommended for ages 14+. This production contains strong language, adult themes, drug use, and moments of sexual violence that some may find upsetting.