(L to R) Heidi Blickenstaff, Allison Sheppard and Jena VanElslander in the North American Tour of JAGGED LITTLE PILL. Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2022
It has been almost three decades since Alanis Morissette released Jagged Little Pill. A master class in controlled rage, the album flitted effortlessly between the punk sensibilities of the alternative music movement and Morissette’s pop-rock roots. It was also an incredibly empowering album with lyrics as intelligent as they are shocking. Bless Cardi B’s little heart, but her WAP single cannot begin to compete with the blunt imagery of You Oughta Know. Takes a lot of realized anger and bitterness to ask your ex if their new lover is willing to go down on you at the theater.
The question here is whether Jagged Little Pill the musical (a collaboration between Alanis Morissette, Glen Ballard and Diablo Cody that earned a plethora of Tony award nominations in 2020) delivers anywhere near the same emotional punch as the source album. Yes. Or at least some of the time. But not always. There are moments, most of them coming in the second act, where the plot, the iconic song and the exceptional choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui blend to create pure emotional thriller. It is a ride earned however by an often laborious first act that lacks the immediate energy one would expect from a rock opera.
Dillon Klena, Heidi Blickenstaff Chris Hoch and Lauren Chanel in the North American Tour of JAGGED LITTLE PILL – photo by Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2022
Unlike most jukebox musicals, the plot here matters quite a bit. A family drama, the meat of the play focuses on the mom, Mary Jane (played exceptionally well by Heidi Blickenstaff). A woman adept at keeping secrets, Mary Jane (or MJ to her friends) celebrates her biological’s son triumphs while mostly ignoring her bisexual adopted African-American daughter. She also quietly suffers a growing drug addiction fueled by a recent car accident as well as the triggering memories of a sexual assault witnessed by her son. Meanwhile her daughter explores a burgeoning sense of social justice as well as feelings of alienation spurred on by her sexuality and race.
Dillon Klena and company of the North American Tour of JAGGED LITTLE PILL – photo by Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2022
Those are quite a lot of jagged little pills for any one musical to swallow. Director Diane Paulus does her best to move everything along but the first act appears more than a bit weighted down. The second act though is markedly more focused and better emotionally connected to the music. Credit this revival in large part to Jade McLeod’s (playing Frankie’s spurned ex-lover) rousing performance of You Oughta Know. Also exceptional throughout the musical is Heidi Blickenstaff (Mary Jane) whose incredible range and musical talent fully fleshes out her character. This production, while far from perfect, still makes for a delicious treat ready to be swallowed whole. Noel Schecter
Jade McLeod and the North American Touring Company of JAGGED LITTLE PILL. Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2022
Jagged Little Pill is Recommended and is playing now through April 23rd at the Nederlander Theater (24 West Randolph Street). Tickets vary in price from $35 to $125 and can be purchased at BroadwayInChicago.com. For more reviews and general information about Chicago’s exciting theater scene check out theaterinchicago.com.