JAGGED LITTLE PILL Musical at Fox Theater Review

Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill, the Musical” made its Fox theater debut this week, on Firday, Jan.19, for a too-brief run through Sunday, Jan. 21. And what a wow it was.

Alanis Morissette’s album “Jagged Little Pill” became a world-wide hit when it was released, a collection of angsty cries that hit the perfect note with her fans, even as some critics gripped that it was too angsty, too emotional. But the musical, which won two Tonys on Broadway, actually lets the high-octane emotionalism work in it’s favor, making it a high-energy, engaging and entertaining musical that is far more fun than the usual “jukebox” musical. Of course, it helps that the songs are all part of one album, curated to fit together, instead of a more random collection. Alanis Morissette fans, then and now, will be delighted, and the non-fans in the crowd will be delightfully entertained as well with this well-constructed, creatively-fresh show.

Alanis Morissette’s songs are woven into a story of an American family, described as “a perfectly imperfect,” with the show’s book written by the Oscar-nominated screenwriter Diablo Cody (JUNO). The musical touches on a number of social issues – opioid addiction, sexual orientation, cross-racial adoption, social media, teenage heartbreak, and more. That is a lot to pack into one story, so story can seem contrived, and even melodramatic, at moments, but it serves the musical well. This emotional tale is an excellent vehicle for all those songs, 23 of them. Besides, what musical isn’t contrived? And in this case, the result is highly entertaining and satisfying.

The musical’s “perfectly imperfect” Connecticut family is suburban and comfortable, and all looks fine – from the outside. There is stay-at-home, excercise-fanatic mom Mary Jane Healy (Julie Reiber), also called MJ, workaholic attorney dad Steve Healy (Benjamin Eakeley), and their two children, son Nick (Dillon Klena) and their youngest, daughter Frankie Healy (Teralin Jones). Nick is a nice, parent-pleasing boy who just got early admission to Harvard, while Frankie is more rebelious, artistic and a budding socially-conscious activist, and aspires to become a writer. Frankie, who was adopted as a baby into this white family, is also a bit resentful about being raised without connection to her Black heritage by her “I don’t see color” mother. MJ was in a car accident some months ago and in some ways, she is still recovering, not something everyone sees in the high-energy mom. Dad Steve recently got a promotion and is so focused on working hard that he is struggling with work-life balance, which is impacting the marriage.

Other significant characters in the musical are Frankie’s best friend Jo (Jade McLeod), who is also her secret lover, Nick’s friends Bella Fox (Allison Sheppard) and Andrew (Jordan Quisno), and Phoenix (Rishi Golani), a boy Frankie meets in her writing class.

The songs in Jagged Little Pill, the album and the musical, are very expressive and emotional, and the show really leans into that. This isn’t the usual kind of musical but one that takes a fresh approach, particularly in how it uses its chorus and its dance aspect. All the album’s songs, including the breakout hits like “Hand In My Pocket” and “Head Over Feat” are here but every song is full integrated into the story and there is less of the usual “production number” feeling to the songs. Still, the effect s very compelling and works surprisingly well with the emotional nature of the songs. Some songs are emotionally raw and some are more light hearted, and they are paired well with the scenes.

(L to R) Julie Reiber, Teralin Jones and the Company of JAGGED LITTLE PILL. Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2023. Courtesy of the Fabulous Fox Theater

For example, Teralin Jones’ Frankie sings the high “Ironic” during a scene where Frankie is require to read her writing assignment to the class. The song is the writing assignment, and her classmates, who are supposed to provide constructive criticism, interrupt her every time she gets to the “ironic” chorus. to tell her that, no, actually that’s not irony. It is both funny and completely within the scene’s reality.

By contrast, an especially powerful use is “You Ought to Know,” which Jade McLeod as Jo belts out to Frankie in a pivotal scene, probably as close to a showstopper as the production has. Jade McLeod has perhaps the best voice in the show, and all her songs are vocal standouts, with her joyful “Hand In My Pocket” another show highlight.

One of the most striking aspects is use of dancers. This high-octane, modern dance ensemble performs the “Overture/Right Through You” and “Entr’acte/Hands Clean” song medleys at the start of Acts 1 and 2, and provides vocal backup to the main characters’ songs but with an added new dimension. Instead of the usual chorus line, these are expressive, high-energy dance interpretations of the character’s feelings, vividly underscore and enhance the emotions of the song, and sometimes they convey unspoken emotions the singer is hiding. The effect is very powerful and surprisingly effects.

Dancer Shelby Finnie plays MJ’s avatar, a silent, interpretive dance version of MJ revealing her inner feelings or reflecting her younger self. There is a particularly power scene in the second act, where MJ seems to wrestle with her feelings, portrayed by Julie Reiber as an uncertain MJ with elusive interpretive dancer Shelby Finnie providing very fluid dance movements, rolling over and around a sofa as a sole prop on stage, a very creative and effective effect.

This creative production is a must-see, where you are a fan of the album or not, for its touching emotional power and its satisfying ending. “Jagged Little Pill” is at the Fabulous Fox through January 21.

© Cate Marquis

(L to R) Julie Reiber, Allison Sheppard and Shelby Finnie in the North American Tour of JAGGED LITTLE PILL. Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2023 Courtesy of the Fabulous Fox Theater