Jagged Little Pill at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre
Through November 13, 2022 get tickets and more info here.
Jagged Little Pill is a jukebox musical that uses the music of Alanis Morissette to tell the story. Based on her album (1995) of the same name, the show uses other Morissette songs taken from several of her other albums. Jagged Little Pill boasts a book by Diablo Cody and additional music by Guy Sigsworth and Michael Farrell. Currently playing at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre, Jagged Little Pill holds the honor of the most nominated show for the 2019-2020 Tony Award Season.
The storyline may not be original but it is important enough to reiterate. Mary Jane Healy appears as the perfect Connecticut wife; highly driven, attractive, and who has devotedly raised two children. Under the surface she is addicted to opioids (from a car accident a year ago), Steve is addicted to pornography and her adopted (person of color) daughter, Frankie, is a closeted bisexual. Only her son Nick seems to be immune and is the ‘perfect, golden child’ who just received his acceptance notice to Harvard. At a local high school party, a young girl named Bella drinks too much and blacks out. The next day pictures make the school rounds of Bella without her shirt. Then the rumors that she was raped by Nick’s best friend (and neighborhood wealthy boy) Andrew. Nick walked in when Andrew was molesting a passed-out Bella, and chose to do nothing. Meanwhile, Frankie meets a boy named Phoenix and starts a relationship, without telling either him or her girlfriend Jo about the other.
The cast is all excellent. The dancing is exuberant, modern and very fluidic. Several of the dancers express the main characters inner emotions and turmoil. Other shows have used this technique to only find that it distracts from the main characters. In this case, it does what it is supposed to do and the audience is shown the struggle (emotional and physical) of the main characters through beautiful modern dance. The ‘students’ of this show are definitely the leads. Allison Sheppard plays “Bella”, the student that blacks out at the party. Ms. Sheppard does a very good job of showing the range of a girl that has been raped, and struggles with society’s placing the blame on herself. Her voice is strong and brings a hard emotional edge to her character. Jade McLeod plays “Jo”. Mx. (the preferred pronoun for someone identifying as “they/them”) McLeod does very good work here as the jilted lover and best friend of Frankie. Their voice is strong whether belting out the light-hearted anthem “Hand in my Pocket”, or the tumultuous song, and one of Morissette’s most famous ‘break up songs’, “You Oughta Know”. The audience feels every iota of their betrayal, conflict and devotion with every note they sing.
Lauren Chanel plays “Frankie”, the teenager at the center of the show. She is politically aware, involved, and trying to find her own way. Ms. Chanel does an excellent job showing the pain and joys of the angst surrounding the teenage years. It is Frankie’s idea to support Bella’s claims of rape, and even though the characters aren’t close friends, still stands by her. Ms. Chanel’s voice is strong and she lets the anguish felt in her voice fly out to the back of the theatre. Her voice is well suited for the song “Unprodigal Daughter”. Heidi Blickenstaff plays the mother, “Mary Jane Healy”. Ms. Blickenstaff, who reopened Jagged Little Pill on Broadway after the pandemic, is a well-known veteran of Broadway, and she uses her vast experience to show off her talents in Jagged Little Pill. She shows the stress and careful discipline needed to be “the perfect wife and mother” in her privileged community. Ms. Blickenstaff shows the audience her character’s inner struggle. She’s trying to promote her family as being “perfect”, except for her own addiction and family conflicts. The character is torn as to having her son do the right thing by telling the police that he witnessed Bella’s rape, what the community will think of her family afterwards, and her own repressed experiences of being molested in college. Ms. Blickenstaff’s voice is strong, as is her stage presence, and she takes full control of the songs “Forgiven”, and “Not the Doctor”.
Jagged Little Pill is definitely a show for the modern society. The story is not original, but (unfortunately) it is still one that needs to be presented and discussed. The subjects of race, rape, consent, society’s viewpoint, sexuality among minors, and addiction are all present and the story does not shy away from them. It may not be easy for some audience members to see these situations on stage, but they are important subjects that still need to be dealt with in society. The music of Jagged Little Pill is all from the Alanis Morissette album by the same name, as well as incorporating other songs (and a few original ones) from other albums by the talented songstress. It shouldn’t matter if any of the audience members are not familiar with Morisssette’s work before seeing the show. As with the musical comedy “Mamma Mia”, the storyline connects the music of the artist to tell the story. Unlike Mamma Mia, this story is powerful, politically aware, and full of the right kind of angst for a new generation. Although not playing long in Seattle, which is a shame, this show is an important one. Society needs to see it, and more importantly, needs to take the messages to heart and put them into practice.
Jagged Little Pill opened on Broadway December 05, 2019 and ran for two years (being closed by the Covid Pandemic). It was nominated for 12 Tony Awards for the 2019-2020 Season, including Best Musical, and won two: Best Book of a Musical and Best Actress in a Featured Musical Role for Lauren Patten.