Angst and the Dysfunctional Family
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Alanis Morissette is the queen of tough times music. Her anxiety often comes through the stories she tells in song. There are broken hearts, angst-filled relationships, misunderstood communications, or special moments in time now lost. Each song is a chapter in a book, and Jagged Little Pill became her best-selling album.
So, someone had the idea to put all those songs together in a story, and Diablo Cody, most famous for writing the screen play for the movie Juno, wrote the script for Jagged Little Pill.
In fact, in the 2020 Tony awards, Cody took the Tony for the Best Book of a Musical, with Lauren Patten winning Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Jo. Jagged Little Pill actually led the Tony nominations that year with 15.
Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill is one of the most successful albums of the 1990s. It peaked at No. 1 in October 1995, almost four months after it was released, remaining in that position for twelve weeks in total. So, if you came of age in 1995 and survived teenage angst, you are probably a big fan of Alanis Morissette.
But are you a fan of the plot? The show opens with Mary Jane, the mom, writing her annual Christmas letter, essentially bragging about her teenage son, Nick, who was accepted at Harvard. Their Black daughter, Frankie, calls herself “an adoption fail”. Husband and father, Steve, is a workaholic lawyer, probably staying at the office to avoid things at home. There are problems in the marriage and the kids have troubles of their own. Mary Jane is recovering from an accident and is secretly hooked on painkillers. When the doctor won’t repeat her prescription, she starts buying on the street. Spoiler alert – well, you actually don’t need an alert, it’s obvious the OD is coming. Mom overdoes, then the family rallies around and suddenly everything is just fine. That’s where the plot fails – it’s just a little too trite and unconvincing. Mom concludes by saying there won’t be the usual braggadocio Christmas letter this year.
All cast members have amazing voices and are able to copy Morissette’s style – the shifts in tone and dynamics, moving up and down the scale with ease.
The four family members are played well, with Julie Reiber as Mary Jane, Benjamin Eakeley as Steve, Dillon Klena as Nick, and Teralin Jones as Frankie. But it’s Jade McLeod as Jo who steals the show with their rendition of “Your House” and “You Oughta Know”. McLeod is the only Canadian cast member in this American touring company, and earned a mid-show standing ovation on opening night. She nails the character and the songs with her powerful vocals. Playing Frankie’s girlfriend in the show, McLeod prefers they/them pronouns and gives a shout-out in the program to non-binary and trans people.
The ensemble deserves credit for their energetic performance of the choreography. The teenage torment is evident in the movement. It seems like choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has every person doing something different, yet they all blend together somehow. Special mention goes to Canadian Marc Kimmelman who is the associate choreographer.
If you are a fan of Alanis Morissette’s music, then this is the show for you. All her hits are packed into an evening and performed to sound very much like Alanis herself. But if you want a deep plot about dysfunctional families and teenage angst, there are better musicals. I’d suggest seeing Next to Normal, Dear Evan Hansen or even Fun Home. Those drew me in and brought tears to my eyes, where, unfortunately Jagged Little Pill’s story just wasn’t convincing.
Jagged Little Pill continues with eight shows a week at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. W., Toronto, Ontario until November 26. Call TicketKing 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets.
Photo: 1. Dillon Klena, Teralin Jones, Julie Reiber, Benjamin Eakeley as the family. 2. Canadian Jade McLeod as Jo, with the ensemble. Photos by Matthew Murphy and Edmund Zimmerman.
Jagged Little Pill
Book by Diablo Cody
Lyrics by Alanis Morissette
Music by Alanis Morissette & Glen Ballard
Directed by Diane Paulus
Musical Direction by Tom Kitt
Choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Performed by Julie Reiber, Teralin Jones, Banjamin Eakeley Dillon Klena, Jade McLeod, Allison Sheppard, Rishi Golani, and ensemble.
Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St., Toronto
October 24 to November 26, 2023
Reviewed by Mary Alderson