Review: JAGGED LITTLE PILL At Ottawa's National Arts Centre

Broadway Across Canada's presentation of Jagged Little Pill tackles tough issues without ever feeling insincere or preachy.

By: May. 31, 2023
Jagged Little Pill Show Information
Get Show Info Info
Get Tickets
Enter Your Email to Unlock This Article

Plus, get the best of BroadwayWorld delivered to your inbox, and unlimited access to our editorial content across the globe.

Existing user? Just click login.

As I exited the theatre after last night’s performance of Jagged Little Pill, I thought about how many issues the show tackled over the course of just a couple of hours. Even though the musical is based on songs written by Alanis Morissette – mostly from the 1995 album the musical is named after – the story has nothing to do with Morissette (although she is briefly mentioned in a nod to her music having shaped the storyline). 

Jagged Little Pill
Jade McLeod and the North American Touring Company of
JAGGED LITTLE PILL. Photo by Matthew Murphy
for MurphyMade, 2022

The plot centres around the fictional Healy family: Mary Jane, known as MJ (Heidi Blickenstaff), her husband, Steve (understudied by Justin Scott Brown on opening night), her son, Nick (Dillon Klena), and her daughter, Frankie (understudied by Maya J. Christian on opening night), who are each struggling under enormous pressures. MJ, recovering from a car accident, is widely seen as the perfect wife and mother, but she harbours a long-buried secret that resurfaced after the accident. To help her cope with the physical and emotional pain, MJ became addicted to painkillers. Steve works long hours trying to be the traditional family breadwinner, but this has caused him to miss out on a lot in his family life. Feeling lonely and unappreciated, Steve turned to porn for satisfaction. Nick shoulders the burden of expectations built around him – that he be the perfect son, the perfect student, the perfect athlete. It is all becoming too much for him to handle, but he doesn’t want to disappoint anyone. Frankie, a transracial adoptee, doesn’t fit in in small-town Connecticut and makes it her mission to take on every cause that she believes in. Her best friend, Jo (Jade McLeod), with whom she also has a romantic relationship, seems to be the only one who understands her; that is, until Frankie’s new classmate, Phoenix (Rishi Golani) shows up. There is so much more going on, but I'm sure you can see that there is a lot to unpack here with the Healys alone.

Jagged Little Pill
Dillon Klena and company of the North American Tour of
JAGGED LITTLE PILL - photo by Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman
for MurphyMade, 2022

I can’t tell what is more staggering: the fact that the writers attempted to tackle so many difficult subjects in one show (addiction, sexual assault, and gender identity – to name just a few) or that they accomplished such an ambitious objective without ever feeling insincere or preachy. That being said, there is no room for haters in this musical. If themes of gender diversity, social injustice, and female empowerment make you clutch your pearls or cry “woke”, don’t even bother showing up.

The set design is relatively simple and uses moving digital backdrops to help set the scene. What I loved was whenever a scene changed, the actors and furniture would fade away into the background as a new scene unfolded in the foreground so the that the action, reflecting life itself, was always moving forward. In the second half, “Uninvited” contains one of the most impressive, dramatic scenes I have ever witnessed on stage. I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t give away what happens, but the way it is staged is simultaneously haunting and beautiful.

Jagged Little Pill
Jena VanElslander and the North American Touring
Company of JAGGED LITTLE PILL. Photo by
Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2022

The number felt almost like a piece of performance art separate from the rest of the show, which perfectly reflects the event taking place. This is largely thanks to stand-out performances by Blickenstaff and ensemble member, Jena VanElslander, as well as incredible lighting design by Justin Townsend. “Predator”, a number featuring Nick’s friend, Bella (Allison Sheppard), is another superb execution of a horrifying subject matter. “No’s” choreography (Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui) used protest signs to make an unforgettably powerful statement. These heavy events are balanced out with a large helping of humour. Blickenstaff is given a lot of dry, witty offhand remarks and her delivery is perfection. In the “Ironic” number, the cast hilariously calls Morissette out on her lyrics.

Performances were amazing all around, despite Southam Hall’s usual uneven sound. All the actors are technically skilled and were each utterly convincing in their roles; however, Blickenstaff and McLeod gave 150% and were out-of-this-world phenomenal. Sheppard’s ability to convey her character’s emotions through body language and facial expression was also impressive. Jagged Little Pill’s ensemble is also one of the best I’ve seen. The quality of the acting and dancing was incredible throughout the show.

Jagged Little Pill
Heidi Blickenstaff and the North American
Touring Company of JAGGED LITTLE PILL.
Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2022

What is refreshing is that, at the end of the musical, not everything is resolved into a tidy, neat package. The show does give its audience a lot to think about, but ultimately sends the message that every family has issues, even if they seem perfect on the outside. Those issues may not easily (or ever) be resolved but acknowledgement, and the acceptance of help and love from people who care, goes a long way towards the healing process. What makes this show so special is the realization that, even though they may be fictional, we are all just like the Healys one way or another.

Broadway Across Canada’s presentation of Jagged Little Pill is in performances through June 4th at the National Arts Centre. Note that, due to its mature subject matter, this show has an age recommendation of 14+. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.


To post a comment, you must register and login.

Buy at the Theatre Shop T-Shirts, Mugs, Phone Cases & More