When the new smash hit “Jagged Little Pill” opened on Broadway in early December, it received hundreds of (well deserved) positive reviews and quickly became a front runner in the predictions for the 2020 Tony Awards. I got the opportunity to see the show right after Christmas, and it has since become my second favorite Broadway show I’ve seen (second only to “Hamilton,” because, come on).
“Jagged Little Pill” is a jukebox musical, meaning the music was originally written as an album, not specifically for the show.
The original album, by Alanis Morrisette was a 90’s classic and has some of the most iconic songs from the era. Most jukebox musicals don’t do super well on Broadway due to the story not always fitting in with the music, but the writer of “JLP,” Diablo Cody, did a fantastic job writing a story around the music.
The show follows the Healy family, a seemingly perfect family from the suburbs of Connecticut. Mary Jane, better known as MJ, was in a car accident in the beginning of the year and has since had an almost complete recovery. She’s envied around town: she goes to Soulcycle, eats perfectly, and has a great family. Her husband, Steve, just got a big promotion at work.
Their son, Nick, recently got into Harvard. And Frankie, their adopted African-American daughter is invested in social justice and making the world a better place. That’s where things start to fall apart. MJ is addicted to opioids, and Steve is addicted to pornography and work.
Nick starts to fall under the pressure of being the “perfect” son, and witness the rape of his friend Bella. Not knowing what to do, he doesn’t do or say anything. And Frankie feels out of place in her family, and turns to her best friend, Jo.
Not only are they best friends; they’re friends with benefits. When Jo walks in on Frankie sleeping with a guy from her English class, she feels betrayed and hurt, and immediately tells her parents. Frankie then runs off to New York.
The intricate story covers a lot of things: drug addiction, rape, sexuality struggles, racism, and the typical angsty high school life. It can get hard to follow the storyline, but if the audience pays attention, it’s not super difficult to understand. The story rips at your core and makes you think about your life, and how things aren’t as perfect as they may seem.
Alanis Morrisette’s “Jagged Little Pill” is overall an amazing album, and transferred beautifully into the stage production.
The iconic “Ironic” is set in a writer’s workshop in an English class, with students criticizing the fact that it isn’t actually ironic, where Morrisette (who had a huge part in the production of the show) gets to make fun of herself and gives a nod to the original criticisms of the writing of the song.
“All I Really Want” is set up as an argument with Frankie and MJ, and is a perfect vehicle to demonstrate a real mother-daughter relationship. “Head Over Feet” is adorable, and Phoenix (the boy who Frankie falls in love with) and Frankie sing a cute duet.
All of the music in the show is amazing, but the true show-stopper is the notorious “You Oughta Know,” sung by Jo. Lauren Patten, who plays Jo, gets an incredibly well-deserved standing ovation every night after that song, and words cannot describe the emotions that she pulls out of herself when she sings the song. It’s truly gut wrenching.
While Patten is easily the standout of the show, Celia Rose Gooding is stunning as Frankie. Her voice projects through the theater gorgeously, and she is amazing as her character. One thing that is unique about the Broadway production is that almost all of the actors have been in the show since the very beginning in 2017, and have had years to develop the characters that they play. This leads to a uniquely close-knit cast and actors who know their characters more than anyone else ever would. Even the ensemble members have their own characters, which makes more of an impact than one would think.
“Jagged Little Pill” deserves all the praise and more. Audiences who like Dear Evan Hansen will definitely enjoy “JLP.” The emotion you feel are very similar, and it hits just as hard. Having seen both, they both require a mature mindset, but “JLP” creates a lot more opportunities for audiences to think and absorb the material.
One thing that makes the show stand out is that the story could be made into a play, without the music (although the music adds so much). I can’t say the same about a lot of musicals. A logistical thing to note is that the theater recommends only 14 year olds and above to see the show, no younger. I actually got stopped at the door to be given a warning that I might not be mature enough to see it, because they thought I was 12. I definitely agree with the recommendation, and would even say that it should be raised to 16.
Overall, “Jagged Little Pill” is a wonderful show, and hopefully will win as many Tonys as it deserves. It is a fantastic show and will leave audiences crying and happy at the same time. Bring your tissues.