Review: JAGGED LITTLE PILL National Tour, DPAC

Sometimes a jukebox musical's songs take away from the story it's telling

By: Mar. 01, 2023
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Jagged Little Pill

TW: addiction, sexual assault

The problem with jukebox musicals is that the music they use often takes away from the story that they're telling. It's not an issue with a show like MAMMA MIA, in which the plot is so light and frothy that the fun ABBA music complements it. Or, they can work in the case of a biopic like THE CHER SHOW or THE DONNA SUMMERS MUSICAL, in which the songs are used to tell the story of the person who sang them. However, when trying to tell a serious story, the songs can feel limiting and distracting from everything else happening.

That's unfortunately the case for JAGGED LITTLE PILL, the jukebox musical using Alanis Morissette's songs that first debuted on Broadway in late 2019. Directed by Diane Paulus with a book by Diablo Cody, the show won two Tony Awards. It uses Morissette's songs to help tell its complicated interweaving story.

Jagged Little PillJAGGED LITTLE PILL is about the Healy family: mother MJ (Heidi Blickenstaff) is dealing with an addiction to drugs she was prescribed for her car accident injuries months before, father Steve (Chris Hoch) is a workaholic, firstborn son Nick (Dillon Klena) is the family's golden boy but doesn't know if he wants any of the life planned out for him, and adopted daughter Frankie (Lauren Chanel) is trying to make a change at school while pursuing a relationship with her best friend Jo (Jade McLeod).

In addition to the issues in MJ and Steve's relationship, MJ's drug problem, and Frankie's position as a Black girl adopted into a white family, the musical also delves into a rape that occurred to Nick's friend Bella (Allison Sheppard) at a party. His best friend Andrew (Jason Goldston) is the perpetrator and the son of one of the most prominent families in the small Connecticut town. While Frankie rallies around Bella and urges her to pursue Andrew in court, MJ urges her son to stay out of the situation so that his Harvard acceptance won't be put in danger.

Jagged Little PillIt's a musical that is trying to do a lot and speak to many different - incredibly important but dark - topics. It feels too often like the music gets in the way of the story being told and the sound mixing often prevents the audience from being able to understand the lyrics clearly. Thus, it feels like each musical number stalls the progress of the musical. The book is strong, if perhaps trying to take on too many things at once, and seems like it might have been better as a play - or at least a musical with original songs.

However, the production design of the show is excellent and brilliantly utilizes sparse set pieces and projection screens to create the Connecticut town. The musical numbers are accompanied by contemporary-style dance, which works better in some places than others and can be distracting at times.

The whole cast is excellent and holds the show together, even when it falters in the first act. Blickenstaff played her role on Broadway as well, taking over when the original cast member left the show, and she makes MJ a relatable mother that many of us might recognize. Klena is great in his role, giving Nick a vulnerability and youth that makes you believe that, despite his problems, he'll figure things out in the end. (It's also fascinating to see him play a role originated by his elder brother, Derek Klena). McLeod is also excellent as Jo and brings the house down with one of their big numbers as they respond to Frankie's burgeoning new relationship with new boy Phoenix (Rishi Golani).

Jagged Little PillBut the true star of the show is Chanel, portraying the young Frankie, who is the audience's best conduit into the family. It's easy to align with her accepting and supportive ideals, as she risks standing by Bella when no one else will and calls her family out on their hypocrisies. Even as Frankie wavers in her relationships, Chanel's sweet chemistry with Golani makes it easy to continue rooting for her. She has a real star quality, and it's easy to imagine her taking on more central roles in the future. (She would be an excellent Euridyce in HADESTOWN.)

Despite its issues (which are mostly with the jukebox musical format and not the show itself), Jagged Little Pill is still worth watching. It will force you to question your thoughts on how we, as a society, think about drug addiction, rape, and race without ever becoming too preachy on the topics it portrays. I only wish that the show had original music to better support its storylines - no offense to any Alanis Morissette fans.

JAGGED LITTLE PILL is at DPAC through March 5. You can find more information and buy tickets here.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy


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