Review: JAGGED LITTLE PILL at Shea's Buffalo Theatre

This musical is Alanis Morissette's modern-day drama!

By: Jun. 07, 2023
Review: JAGGED LITTLE PILL at Shea's Buffalo Theatre

When reality slaps you in the face and your personal problems seem unsurpassable, you may escape to the fantasy world of a Broadway musical. Unless the show's score is from Alanis Morissette , whose music peaked in the 90's with her unique Alternative  Rock style. And there emerges her musical JAGGED LITTLE PILL, based on her hit 1995 album of the same name.

Canadian Morissette  has written a score with Glen Ballard with a  book by Diablo Cody that fashions a stage drama, bringing Morissette's songs to life. Laden with themes of self doubt, irony and a screw-the-world-attitude, JAGGED LITTLE PILL tackles the present day issues of drug addiction, sexuality, rape, bullying, social media and gender identity.

Using a framing device of a mom writing the dreaded annual family  Christmas letter, we meet mom/wife Mary Jane (MJ), husband Steve, son Nick and adopted Black daughter Frankie.  All are comfortably ( or is uncomfortably) settled in white upper class Connecticut lives, and  their personal demons make up the story.

Heidi Blickenstaff leads the tour as MJ, just as she did in the Broadway production. Her struggle with addiction to pain killers after a car accident pervades all of her family life. She resorts to seeking street drugs to maintain her addiction, while trying to carry on her outward June Cleaver role. Blickenstaff is the perfect amalgamation of a grounded woman, with a knack for cynicism that makes her endearing and hard to dislike. Her quest for perfection for her children is palpable, while her marriage slowly unravels. Blickenstaff is wholly at home with the edgy rock style, getting to show her vocal chops best  in Morissette's haunting "Uninvited." 

Lauren Chanel is the confused adopted teen Frankie, battling to find her place in a white community, fighting for equality and living her bisexual life. Chanel has a strong singing voice and  brings a youthful optimism of being able to conquer all while grappling teen life. 

Jade McLeod is sheer perfection as Jo, Frankie's first love. Jo lives with an overbearing mother who is a religious zealot who can only pray away her daughter's sexuality. McLeod's powerhouse voice eerily echoes Morissette's own voice, and truly shines when singing the well known "Hand in My Pocket."

Dillon Klena as Nick brings to life the well-to-do privileged white boy who is an over achiever and does his family proud, gaining acceptance to Harvard. But his world is rocked when he is a witness to a rape of fellow High School student Bella (played by Allison Sheppard). As the victim, Sheppard is captivating,  as her world unravels, singing some of Morissette's most apt music and lyrics.

Chris Hoch turns in another fine performance as husband Steve. Withstanding the challenges of providing for his family with a failing marriage, Hoch is a sympathetic character .

Broadway Director Diane Paulus, best known for her successful staging of the revival of  PIPPIN  and less successful staging of the  revival of an all female 1776,   leads the quickly paced production. Her innovative staging includes a clever use of watching an entire scene play out only to have it then repeated fully in the reverse direction.

Movement Director and Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has created some fascinating dances that perfectly bring to life Morissette's musical style. His work fashions a fluidity of arm movements that can be at one moment lithe and another jerky and full of tension. A highlight occurs when MJ slips into a mental and physical breakdown during "Uninvited," where she and a stage-double dancer dance a pas de deux of sorts using a sofa as an anchor.

Review: JAGGED LITTLE PILL at Shea's Buffalo Theatre

The production is strong in bringing social issues to the forefront, using Morissette's  catalogue of songs. The crux lies in the fact that her score intrinsically  offers little to no variations in style and tone. The angst ridden cast all are fighting inner and outer demons, with no reprieve of the tension in sight. The 2:45 running time begs for some  moments of levity or a comic song or character. The themes are relevant to all and are bravely enacted, elucidating the long lasting effects of rape and potential  lack of culpability. 

Lighting Design by Justin Townsend is in your face reminiscent of the light shows expected at a rock concert. As the drama builds and mental breakdowns occur among the cast, the music gets louder and lights become bright white and faced directly towards the audience, making everyone a part of the tension. 

Shows like TOMMY and NEXT TO NORMAL have proven that alternative music with edgy scores can find a place on the Broadway stage.  But of course, individual taste and preferences vary and JAGGED LITTLE PILL may be too challenging for certain audiences. There is no denying this production offers great singing among it's cast and the large young ensemble is fully committed in telling this dramatic story.

Alanis Morrissette's  JAGGED LITTLE PILL:The Musical runs through June 11, 2023 at Shea's Buffalo Theatre. Contact for more information



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From This Author - Michael Rabice

Michael Rabice has over  40 years of experience attending plays, musicals and opera all over the world. He is a frequent performer in opera and has appeared with the Glimmerglass Opera, Artp... Michael Rabice">(read more about this author)


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