Jagged Little Pill The Musical Review @ Theatre Royal Sydney

  • Written by  Natalie Salvo
  • Monday, 13 December 2021 15:39
Published in Arts News  
'Jagged Little Pill The Musical' 'Jagged Little Pill The Musical' Image © Daniel Boud

'Jagged Little Pill The Musical’ is humanly messy and proves we can all embrace our inner, angsty teenager.

The musical, based on Alanis Morissette’s seminal album, was always going to be confrontational and empowering, given the source material. But what audiences may not expect is that those songs written back in 1995 with producer, Glen Ballard, still pack an emotional punch and a relevance that rings true today.

'Jagged Little Pill' had its Australian premiere at the reopened Theatre Royal in Sydney (9 December). The Oscar-winning 'Juno' writer, Diablo Cody adapted the story for the stage and proves a perfect foil to Morissette. Both ladies know how to negotiate feelings of anger and love with wit and real heart. They are assisted by Director, Diane Paulus, who is steadfast in tackling lots of serious ground.

We are introduced to the handsome (or are they?) Healy family. The sweet Natalie Bassingthwaighte stars as the mother grappling with addiction in between spin classes and flashbacks to past traumas. Her husband, Steve (Tim Draxl) plays a distracted, workaholic/porn addict while their son Nick (Liam Head) is an overachieving student who fails to intervene when his friend Bella (Grace Miell) is raped. It’s pretty intense stuff.

Messer and messes Healy adopt Frankie (the dazzling Emily Nkomo) who is experimenting with her sexuality with Jo (Maggie McKenna 'Muriel’s Wedding'). The latter character is non-binary in the original version of the story. Several cast members in this production identify as non-binary, which is great from a representation standpoint.

Jagged Daniel Boud2
Image © Daniel Boud

Frankie is also negotiating her cultural background as she feels this has been white-washed by her colour-blind parents. There are more principal characters here than other musicals and while they are mostly well-defined, the two main male ones feel somewhat under-developed. The cast explore social issues such as sexuality, identity and addiction in this contemporary, post-#MeToo world. Cody was apparently inspired by Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US Supreme Court and this is clear within some beats in Bella’s plot.

There are some moments where Morissette’s songs fuse better with the proceedings. 'You Oughta Know' is a fan favourite and a natural highlight. McKenna takes the place of the enraged, spurned lover of Frankie for this one. Their vocals start off so tentatively yet reach such a rousing crescendo that by the end, they're given a standing ovation. However, one can’t help but wonder if this number would have been even more powerful as a closing song rather than its being locked away in the middle of Act Two.

'Ironic' has an interesting rendering, as it's delivered by Frankie during a school class. Her fellow students interject and argue that those things she said aren’t so ironic. It's a clever way of including this number whereas there are other songs that feel somewhat shoe-horned in. I’m looking at you 'Mary Jane', because did 'Mum' really have to be named after marijuana and be a drug addict?

Paulus makes frequent use of the ensemble for various tunes. This works during the rocking songs, and makes these more forceful and in your face. For the more sentimental ones however, this does seem a tad unnecessary. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s choreography is contemporary and vibrant. It fits the feel of the proceedings as well as the urbane nature of things, including the costuming by Emily Rebholz.

Jagged Daniel Boud1
Image © Daniel Boud

This production is certainly ambitious in trying to tackle many different things with its diverse cast and approach. There are 23 numbers in total (when, let’s face it, a few probably could have been cut without damaging the story) from Morissette’s catalogue, including two new ones. Fans of the songstress should love the music, even though this musical is not a biographical one about the artist. They will enjoy those Alanis Easter eggs that can be found in the script and recurring musical motifs like the chords to 'Thank You' being reprised at different moments by the rocking band and string section.

The staging for this show is pretty sparse with a house-like structure and projections serving as the backdrop. Things are perhaps kept minimal on this front to allow for the music and lyrics to take front and centre stage. Morissette’s lyrics can have a poetic quality but they are occasionally drowned out by the loud renderings.

In short, 'Jagged Little Pill' is like a crowded house chock full of different things. There are moments where it could be electrifying and powerful and other times where it's a tad too quirky and sentimental for its own good.

A contemporary piece, which has moments for your head and heart, along with one hand in your pocket, just for good measure.

‘Jagged Little Pill The Musical’ is now playing at Theatre Royal Sydney.



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