'Jagged Little Pill' Lyrics by Alanis Morisette Music by Alanis Morisette and Glen Ballard Book by Diablo Cody
Now onstage at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West
Credit: Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2023. North American Touring Company. L-R: Dillon Klena, Teralin Jones, Julie Reiber, Benjamin Eakeley
“A tenacious, raw, and gritty production where it is hoped ‘You Learn’ as Alanis Morisette sings. We do learn in this ‘Jagged Little Pill’. At least I did.”
Inspired by Canadian Alanis Morisette’s album of the same title, this jukebox musical introduces the Healys, who are hiding secrets from each other. Sadly, it appears no one truly listens to each other in this family.
At the top of the show, Mary Jane/MJ (Julie Reiber) composes one of those ‘drippy Christmas letters’ (thank you, A. R. Gurney and ‘Love Letters’) describing how much the family has accomplished this year. That statement is far from the truth. MJ was involved in a car crash months ago. She now supposedly uses ‘natural remedies’ to help deal with the pain. Her husband, Steve (Benjamin Eakeley), has been promoted but is rarely at home for the hours he clocks in at his law office. He has an addiction to internet pornography. Their golden boy son, Nick (Dillon Klena), has just received admission to Harvard University but is uncertain whether he wants to attend. Nick wonders if his parents are living their dreams through him. MJ and Steve’s adopted black daughter, Frankie (Teralin Jones), is an activist teenager who makes out with non-binary best friend Jo (Jade McLeod) and finds those moments to rebel against her parents’ wishes.
A terrifying event at a party involving Bella (Allison Sheppard), one of Frankie and Jo’s classmates, will alter the course of events in the lives of the Healys.
There are significant social messages tackled in this current touring production, with transracial adoption, racism, and misogyny being only three. There’s also lots of flash and dazzle strobe effect lighting, which magnifies the hyper-emotive reactions of both audience and actors. The show’s pacing remains electrically charged throughout to the point where, at times, it got tiring just watching how quickly the actors moved in and out of the individual scenes, setting pieces in place.
Nevertheless, this visually and emotionally hyped-up and thrown-at-you North American touring production brought many young people to the theatre on this opening night.
And that’s a good thing.
They are familiar with Canadian artist Alanis Morisette’s often-blaring music and gritty lyrics that speak volumes. Matt Doebler’s Musical Direction and Tom Kitt’s orchestration and arrangements nobly capture the angst of modern youth in the face of an ever-changing and sometimes ‘woke’ world. Justin Townsend’s sharply focused lighting reinforces much of the strength of youth in several ensemble numbers. Riccardo Hernández’s scenic designs work nicely for various locales when combined with Lucy Mackinnon’s visually stimulating videos. Emily Rebholz’s costumes succinctly capture the various individual personas of the characters.
It’s loud in several whole ensemble musical numbers, and there are moments where Jonathan Deans’s sound design doesn’t allow the lyrics to be heard as clearly as they should be. That didn’t matter to this opening night crowd as, once again, it appears they already know the lyrics.
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s thrilling choreography is bona fide A+ quality, with a splendid combination of rap and hip-hop movements. I’m not a fan of either, but it works here, especially in ‘Thank U’ and ‘No,’ involving Bella and the ensemble.
Director Diane Paulus assuredly understands the apprehensive misgivings of young people as they confront either their uncertain futures in looking ahead or in the present moment. Frankie and Jo’s relationship is tested when new kid Phoenix (Rishi Golani) arrives at school. Frankie takes an interest in Phoenix, which makes for a jaw-dropping and stunning reactionary comment from Jo in a terrific ‘You Oughta Know.’ The song brought several audience members to their feet in a standing ovation, deservedly so, as Jade McLeod’s work is glorious.
What also works beautifully is Paulus’s staging of ‘You Learn’ at the end of the show. It is poignantly heartfelt. I could hear the lyrics, and, this time, they spoke volumes not only to young people but to the older ones in the audience like me.
Julie Reiber gives a true-to-life, heartbreaking performance as a mother tormented by demons from her past. She never once veers into histrionics in displaying a convincing array of emotional upheaval in dialogue and song. As MJ’s workaholic husband Steve, Benjamin Eakeley duly reflects the meaning of ‘You Learn’ and the importance of missing out on so much at home. Teralin Jones is an authentically rebellious Frankie. Dillon Klena solidly reveals his emotional turmoil as the golden family child in ‘Perfect.’ Rishi Golani is charming as the new kid Phoenix. Allison Sheppard’s Bella is solid in recognizing what needs to be done after the horrific events of the party.
Some issues in the production could perhaps unnerve audience members. There are a couple of digs against the Catholic Church and its stance on the sinful act of homosexuality and not the person that might put people of faith on guard. There’s more to understanding this faith concept that the story never touches upon, and that’s unfortunate.
Despite some clarity in sound issues, ‘Jagged Little Pill’ universally speaks to a young twenty-first-century audience. The theatre needs productions like this to challenge the social and cultural perspectives of all audience members. And to bring youth to the theatre in order to carry the industry forward.
We learn in ‘Jagged Little Pill’. At least I did.
Running time: approximately two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission.
‘Jagged Little Pill’ runs until November 26 at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West. For tickets, visit mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333.
‘Jagged Little Pill’
Lyrics by Alanis Morisette. Music by Alanis Morisette and Glen Ballard. Book by Diablo Cody
Scenic Design: Riccardo Hernández
Costume Design: Emily Rebholz
Lighting Design: Justin Townsend
Sound Design: Jonathan Deans
Video Design: Lucy Mackinnon
Music Director/Conductor: Matt Doebler
Movement Director and Choreographer: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Director: Diane Paulus
Performers: Benjamin Eakeley, Teralin Jones, Dillon Klena, Jade McLeod, Julie Reiber, Allison Sheppard, Naima Alakham, Lee H. Alexander, Delaney Brown, Justin Scott Brown, Claire Crause, Chelle Denton, Shelby Finnie, Rishi Golani, Liesie Kelly, Cydney Kutcipal, Sophie Lee Morris, Sergio Pasquariello, Jordan Quisno, Carmella Taitt, Alexander Tan, Daniel Thimm, George Vickers V, Elaine Watson