Jagged Little Pill is no mere jukebox musical, it’s a fiery call to action

Jagged Little Pill rocked the Princess of Wales Theatre in downtown Toronto last night as the Alanis Morissette-inspired musical opened its run in front of a packed house.

Isn’t it ironic that an album from the 90s that boasts one of the most famous break-up songs in Canadian music can be transformed into a compelling musical that confronts so many issues facing society today. Don’t you think?

It’s described as a jukebox musical, but that doesn’t do it justice. The storyline is provocative, timely and fiercely political with characters and exchanges that are dynamic and touching. Plot isn’t an afterthought. 

It’s a testament to the creative minds who put this stunning production together that an album from the 90s can be so successfully transformed into an urgent and inspiring work of musical theatre that confronts so many issues we face today, and does so with such verve.

Jagged Little Pill
(L to R) Dillon Klena, Teralin Jones, Julie Reiber and Benjamin Eakeley in the North American Tour of JAGGED LITTLE PILL. Photo Credit: Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2023

In the captivating narrative of Jagged Little Pill, the intricate fabric of an ostensibly ordinary family, the Healys, residing in a quaint Connecticut town gradually unravels, exposing profound and relatable struggles that resonate with us all.

Mary Jane “MJ” Healy and husband Steve rejoice at the news son Nick is accepted to Harvard while adopted daughter Frankie strives to just fit in at high school, which is proving to be not so easy as a person of colour and being bisexual. 

The narrative gains momentum, introducing characters whose dilemmas and challenges are familiar, yet often concealed beneath the surface, waiting for a later reckoning. Naturally, as demonstrated in Jagged Little Pill, these issues don’t simply vanish when ignored; they can swiftly manifest into harsh reality.

Adapting the songs that sprung to life in the 90s isn’t always a success, there are hits and misses, but the glue that holds the production together is the work of Julie Reiber in the role of Mary Jane. 

Reiber, renowned for her role in Broadway’s Wicked, masterfully portrays the suburban housewife’s unraveling facade as she descends into a unique and harrowing despair while upholding the facade of the ideal wife and mother.

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

One of the highlights of the production is Reiber wrestling with her demons, both metaphorically and literally, in the song “Uninvited.” This scene will leave you breathless. 

Of course, everyone in attendance was waiting for the moment one of the actor’s breaks into the song that defined the album and an era, “You Oughta Know.” And that moment came at the hands, or rather the almost perfect voice of Toronto’s own Jade McLeod. 

McLeod portrays Jo, Frankie Healy’s partner in activism at high school and subsequently her scorned girlfriend.

Jade McLeod and the North American Touring Company of JAGGED LITTLE PILL. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2022

When Frankie finds herself in New York City alone and afraid, she calls Jo to save her. Of course, Jo had just found her girlfriend in bed with a boy from school, so the time was right for a little reality check directed at Frankie. 

Up until this point, McLeod had not shown the full range and ferocity in their vocals and the timing could not have been better to unleash it. So good. 

This musical powerfully underscores that regardless of appearance, wealth, or background, we all grapple with personal struggles, haunting tragedies, and the vital need to extend compassion to one another and ourselves.

Striving to meet unrealistically high societal standards is counterproductive and gets in the way of what really matters.

That’s what I took from Jagged Little Pill, and that was certainly not what was on my mind when I went into the Princess of Wales Theatre expecting a simple jukebox musical. But that’s the power of the theatre isn’t it? Sure, we rocked out to some awesome Alanis songs from decades past, but it was so much more. 

Jagged Little Pill runs until Nov. 26 at the Princess of Wales Theatre. For more information go to Mirvish.com

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