Jagged Little Pill is a musical with lyrics by Alanis Morrisette, music by her and Glen Ballard and book by Diablo Cody. It has more than twenty of her songs and a plot around which the songs are stitched. Alanis Morissette can be described humbly as one of the most influential singer/songwriters in the world with one thousand awards, one hundred million albums sold and ten billion ardent admirers of her work.
My numbers may be a bit shaky but her popularity is not. If you are one of them, just go to the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto and applaud and scream to your heart’s content. You do not need to read my views at all.
I admit that the musical is rousing and a crowd pleaser. The plot around which the songs and vigorous dances are tacked has some drama and melodrama as well as some humour. Script writer Diablo Cody is quite ambitious in the territory she covers. The plot is based around a dysfunctional middle-class family in Connecticut.
Briefly, Steve (Benjamin Eakeley) and Mary Jane (Julie Reiber) are unhappily married with lack of sex being one of the primary causes of their misery. Maybe. Mary Jane is addicted to opioids, Steve works sixty hours a week, spends the rest of the time watching porn and is never around for his family. Their son Nick (Dillon Klena) has just been admitted to Harvard University and he is under the undesirable control of his mother. He will get into trouble. Their daughter Frankie is not white, she has been adopted, she is bisexual and runs away from home at sixteen. Her friend Jo (Jade McLeod) is also bisexual and the two carry all the gender issues that can make life a terror. The two song “Hand In My Pocket” an ironic songs with lyrics like “I’s broke, but I’m happy”….I’m drunk, but I’m sober”…. “I’m brave, but I’m chicken” and conclude that no one has figured it out yet.
Bella (Allison Sheppard) is raped at a student frat party and the problem is that no one wants to report the crime to the police or give evidence. I am sure the family and their friends have more problems than I mentioned but that is enough to insert between songs. Some of the songs are no doubt related to the events in the plot but they were sung so loudly that it was often impossible to discern what they were saying.
A rock musical must, I suppose, be loud, very loud, have dances that are kinetic wonders and lights, lots of lights and you need to learn to expect them and divert your eyes away from them when they get blindingly aggressive.
There is a hefty selection of song starting with “All I Really Want” sung by the family and the Company that has complex lyrics and tells us that what they want is patience, a way to calm the angry voice and deliverance. It is an amazing song.
Mary Jane wants to project the image of the perfect family but reality smashes the notions that she harbours. Her addiction to opioids needs to be satisfied but she cannot get anything for it because her prescription does not provide for more refills and she ends up buying from a street dealer. The marital relationship deteriorates and Mary Jane and Steve go for counselling.
Bella’s rape in front of Nick and other students brings this to a head when Nick’s feelings of guilt about doing nothing begin to haunt him and he decides to testify. His mother opposes the idea but he has grown up and decides to go ahead.
Jagged Little Pill covers a broad spectre of topics from drug addiction, sexual assault to LGBTQ+ topics, to sexual identity, to marital relations to reality versus illusion, and racial issues. Morissette’s poetic and complex lyrics may not always fit the plot but they stand on their own.
Diane Paulus directs the raucous production but she should have listened to the enunciation and clarity of the delivery of the lyrics and taken steps to correct it. Justin Townsend provides exciting lighting but he should have taken care not to aim them in our eyes. I add without hesitation that the performance received an enthusiastic reception and my observations may be more an expression of generational differences rather than production shortcomings.
JAGGED LITTLE PILL: The Musical by Alanis Morissette (lyrics) Alanis Morissette and Glen Ballard (music) Diablo Cody (book) and additional music by Michael Farrell and Guy Sigsworth) continues until November 26, 2023 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. West, Toronto, Ontario. www.mirvish.com