An adaptation of Alanis Morrissette's 1995 juggernaut album of the same name, Jagged Little Pill weaves together a familial story to capture some of the themes of this seminal soundtrack.
A Christmas letter is the framing device for the storyline, introducing us to the Healy family – an apparently well-off family unit, who are revealed to have underlying struggles with trauma, relationships and identity.
While Diablo Cody's book is certainly stronger than that other contemporary album-to-musical, American Idiot, ultimately it falls a bit flat, seemingly keen to capture many contemporary societal issues but in doing so errs on theatre-in-education rather than a mainstream musical. Given the strength of Morrisette's lyrics, bookending script work seems clunky and unnecessary. While watching it’s hard to not compare to the shows that have done this better, such as Next to Normal and Dear Evan Hansen.
A stellar cast of dynamic performers work with what they’re given, delivering some brilliant performances. At the helm is Natalie Bassingthwaighte as Mary Jane, in a career defining performance. Bassingthwaighte pushes beyond the stereotypical writing of the ‘damaged Mum’ character, commanding attention with her powerhouse vocals and delightful rapport with her onstage family.
Book-wise, the interesting character of Jo gets a raw deal with some sketchy dialogue and a notable absence for a decent part of the show. Jo is, however, rewarded with the best song of the night – You Oughta Know – and Maggie McKenna does not disappoint. Their vocals, grunt and sheer intensity is utterly thrilling and rarely seen on the musical theatre stage. It’s worth seeing the show just to hear McKenna belt.
The standout here is Emily Nkomo, who makes an extraordinary musical theatre debut as Frankie – you simply cannot take your eyes off her. Portraying a role that carries the weight of the show’s frequent woke messages, Nkomo’s endearing characterisation and killer voice draws you in.
The young ensemble sound incredible, particularly supporting Bassingthwaighte in the act one closer, Forgiven. They beautifully execute Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s thrilling contemporary choreography, in a style that hereafter must be named after the show itself. Raw, visceral movements bring alive a multitude of settings and is a breath of fresh air on the musical theatre stage.
Peter Rutherford’s nine-piece rock band make magic, Morissette fans will not be disappointed by Tom Kitt’s arrangements, as well as the new songs written especially for the musical.
Jagged Little Pill is good to look at, with clean design and just the right amount of rock concert chaos. Riccardo Hernandez’s scenic design is as slick and versatile as you’d expect from a contemporary show, supported by Lucy Mackinnon’s video design which functions as backdrops and supporting imagery.
While the weaknesses in the book cannot be overlooked, Jagged Little Pill’s exciting Australian team and Morissette’s incredible songs make it a welcome addition to the Melbourne scene. Theatre is back!
The Melbourne season of Jagged Little Pill will play Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre through to the end of March. The production will move to Perth’s Crown Theatre from May 14th and due to demand will triumphantly return to Theatre Royal Sydney from July 9th 2022.
Photos: Daniel Boud