Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill: The Musical is a very savvy, self-aware piece of entertainment. Catering to the Gen X audience that connects most strongly with the queen of 90s alt rock, the producers give them a woman their age as the lead and then share a good deal of the spotlight with a girl the age they remember being when they first belted out Morissette’s hits back in the day. That proved a potent combination for the raucous opening-night audience at Broadway in Chicago’s Nederlander Theatre Wednesday.
But it’s a slick show that’s as anodyne in the familiar beats it hits as any story of drug addiction and sexual assault could possibly be. Diablo Cody’s Tony-winning book contains a goodly number of fun zingers, though, helping Jagged Little Pill go down surprisingly easy even for those of us for whom Morissette isn’t quite as iconic as she is for the core audience demo.
All the hits are here, including a rendition of “Ironic” that leans into the common critique that the song’s purported examples of irony are not ironic in the least, ironically enough. That move helps the skeptics warm up to the show and elicits some of the evening’s biggest laughs. And when “You Oughta Know” makes its show-stopping, chart-topping appearance in the middle of the second act, it’s sung–very well–by a somewhat surprising character (surprising if you don’t check the Playbill in advance, anyway).
These are angsty anthems that worm their way into one’s ears. They’ve got a good beat, and you can cry to them. Past the big numbers, however, the songwriting becomes a bit… suspect. I feel sorry for anyone who has to stand before an audience and try to sell “Wake Up” in particular. “You like snow, but only if it’s warm/You like rain, but only if it’s dry.” Okayyy. And then, “There’s no fundamental excuse for the granted I’m taken for.” Yikes!
Even when they’re singing their way through the clunkers, this is a strong cast, led ably by Heidi Blickenstaff as Mary Jane Healy, a Connecticut super mom with a hidden sorrow and a growing addiction to opiates; and Lauren Chanel as Frankie Healy, the teen daughter who isn’t feeling the love from the overbearing MJ.
The choreography is strong, especially during a sequence when Mary Jane is locked in an emotional struggle with a younger version of herself depicted via compelling dance combat on a couch. Another sequence, in which Mary Jane walks backwards through a rewinding version of her day, plays like a music video from Morissette’s heyday.
When it comes to this show, I’ve got one hand in my pocket, but the other one is givin’ a peace sign.
Jagged Little Pill runs through April 23 at the Nederlander Theatre.
For a full roundup of reviews of this show, visit Theatre in Chicago.
Photo by Matthew Murphy