Jagged Little Pill

Broadhurst Theatre, Manhattan

Does it go down easy, or is it difficult to swallow?

By Andrew Andrews

Jagged Little Pill weaves a story through the music of Alanis Morissette—in case you couldn’t tell from the title, which is shared with the singer’s best-selling international debut album.

With more than half of the twenty-three songs coming from the eponymous record, the plot follows the day-to-day life of the Healys, an affluent and highly-regarded family in suburban Connecticut, over the course of a year. It’s a stark contrast from Rent, which of course covered a decidedly more Bohemian set of lives in the inner city a generation prior.

With an eight-piece band performing the soundtrack behind an ever-changing set of geometric scenery, film projections and rapidly-moving props, the show provides the feeling of watching a stream of music videos, dynamically performed live before your very eyes.

Constructing a cohesive story around a set of nearly two dozen established songs is no trivial matter, and book writer Diablo Cody has done a superb job not only developing a flawless plot, but in choosing a context that hits home with the audience of mostly affluent, suburban, middle-aged soccer moms who came of age with Alanis’s music and filled the theater during our performance.

As a result, the story itself couldn’t be more cliché, but unlike the experimental puppet show Fear in the Western World that I reviewed recently, Jagged Little Pill doesn’t so much poke fun at Mainland America as it does exploit it. Furthermore, it’s not entirely clear that the mother, Mary Jane, is the protagonist, making it difficult for someone like me, who can’t relate to the scenario, to feel invested in the story or its characters.

The casting for this production feels spot-on, with every actor perfectly delivering their assigned role. Considering this is first and foremost a musical, I felt that their singing abilities were very hit-or-miss, not only from person-to-person, but even from song-to-song—and that’s taking into account the rough, often dissonant style for which post-grunge artists are known.

At times I felt as though the lighting designer had a bone to pick with the audience: on many occasions, I had to close my eyes when a row of bright lights along the bottom rear of the stage were cast directly onto our faces, like an assault victim trying to fend off an attacker with a tactical flashlight.

The real strength of this production is in the choreography: each musical number really has the look and feel of a music video, with the scenic elements every bit as important as the music and vocals. One song in particular is ingeniously performed both forward and backward, and two other numbers feature a limber dancer acting as a body double while the soul of the character separates from and monitors their corporeal form.

Although the less-than-stellar vocals and pedestrian story line deduct from this production’s overall perfection, its acting, action and integrity create a memorable performance, whether you’re a fan of Alanis Morissette specifically, or Broadway musicals in general.

Andrew Andrews attended Jagged Little Pill at Broadhurst Theatre in Manhattan on Thursday, January 9, 2020 @ 7:00pm to write this review.