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Jagged Little Pill the Musical - Review

Home > Melbourne > Theatre Reviews | Theatre | Musicals | Music | Indoor
by Fiona Anderson (subscribe)
A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
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Everything is just fine, fine, fine
Jagged Little Pill recently had its official opening in Melbourne, to a full house and a standing ovation. Well actually two standing ovations, but more about that later! Nominated for 15 Tony Awards (the most of any show), and winner of a Grammy award for Best Musical Theatre Album, there was a strong sense of anticipation as the audience filled the theatre.

Jagged Little Pill - Musical: Review
Full cast of Jagged Little Pill

Jagged Little Pill is not based on a biography of Alanis Morissette's life; rather the story has been written - by Diablo Cody, Academy Award-winning screenwriter of films including Juno, Young Adult, and Jennifer's Body - to provide a platform to feature Alanis Morissette's music.

The plot centres around the Healy family, who on the surface appear the perfect family group. The reality is, however, very different. Mary Jane ('MJ') (Natalie Bassingthwaighte) and Steve (Tim Draxl) are parents to two teenage children, Frankie (Emily Nkomo) and Nick (Liam Head). MJ is an opiate addict - a habit formed after a car accident and in an attempt to cope with unresolved trauma earlier in her life. Her life is spiralling out of control as the desperation to obtain the drugs deepens. She is becoming distant from Steve, without him understanding why, and initially brushes off his suggestions that they seek marriage counselling.

Jagged Little Pill - Musical: Review
The Healy family - not as perfect as they seem. From left: Nick (Liam Head), Frankie (Emily Nkomo), Mary Jane (MJ) (Natalie Bassingthwaighte), Steve (Tim Draxl)

Meanwhile, their children face their own challenges. Frankie is exploring her sexuality, and when Phoenix (AYDAN) comes to her defence in a school class, and then shows personal interest in her, her relationship with Jo (Maggie McKenna) is seemingly quickly forgotten. There is simmering tension between Frankie and her parents relating to Frankie having been adopted into a 'white' household; she accuses her mother, in particular, of trying to look 'woke' by adopting a child of colour. Tensions boil over when her parents confront Frankie about her relationship with Phoenix.

Nick is feeling pressure to live up to his mother's expectations of him. There is a great scene where Nick and MJ are trimming the Christmas tree together and she tells him it's time for him to start making his own decisions in life. However, when he goes to place a bauble on the tree, she says: 'no, don't put it there'. It sums up how little control he feels he has over his life. And when he witnesses an episode of sexual assault after a party, he faces a dilemma over the right course of action.

There are so many aspects of Jagged Little Pill to like. First, the casting is smack on. Natalie Bassingthwaighte takes the audience on a wild ride as MJ, plumbing the depths of despair as a drug addict in a dramatic way. Emily Nkomo plays the role of Frankie to perfection, making the transition from slightly naive to sassy teenager to #MeToo activist. She has a strong and true singing voice that manages Morissette's at times complex transitions seemingly effortlessly.

There has be to a special mention for Maggie McKenna who has made Morissette's You Oughta Know their own. Maggie absolutely nails it - and the audience loves it, giving a mid-production standing ovation. I can't say I've ever seen that before!

Jagged Little Pill - Musical: Review
Maggie McKenna as Jo (right) received a mid-show standing ovation. Pictured here with Frankie (Emily Nkomo).

The sets are glorious, featuring dynamic scenic automation with a visual display that moves with the sets. This means scene changes are seamless and almost instantaneous, with just some minor props on stage needing to be moved. Particularly memorable were the playground scenes, the train and urban scene, and the alley. Honours there to Riccardo Hernandez (scenic design) and Lucy Mackinnon (video design).

Jagged Little Pill - Musical: Review
Glorious sets featuring an outstanding visual display. Pictured here are Phoenix (AYDAN) and Frankie (Emily Nkomo).

The choreography is brilliant. And the deeply talented ensemble ensures there is energy and dynamism throughout the show.

I almost felt sorry for the band, led by Peter Rutherford (Musical Director/Keyboard). We had the occasional glimpse of the band, suspended above the back of the stage, but largely they were 'heard but not seen'. The music seemed flawless, while contributing greatly to the passion and energy of the show.

And while we're on music, if you're a fan of Alanis Morissette's music, or at least familiar with some of the songs, you will definitely find yourself tapping along.

I will just give a warning that Jagged Little Pill is by no means a 'light and fluffy', feel-good production. It covers a range of gritty social issues including sexual assault and drug use that some people may find difficult to cope with. In fact, at the show I attended, there was an audience member audibly sobbing during the second act. I'm not saying this to put people off; equally, it is not necessarily a show I would universally recommend for that reason.

If you're not deterred by the qualifier, then please do see Jagged Little Pill! For me, it was a powerful, visceral, emotional experience with performances and production values that unquestionably had the 'wow' factor.

This production clip provides a fair representation of what to expect:

Jagged Little Pill plays at the Comedy Theatre, 240 Exhibition Street, Melbourne until 16 March 2022. Tickets start at $85 (plus booking fee). Click here for more information and to purchase your tickets for the Melbourne season.

Please note that Jagged Little Pill contains strong language, adult themes, drug use, and moments of sexual violence, and is recommended for audiences ages 14 plus.

The running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission.

Image credit

All images supplied. Photographer: Daniel Boud.
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*Fiona Anderson was invited as a guest
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Why? Powerful, dynamic stage musical, featuring the multidimensional music of Alanis Morrisette
When: Playing in Melbourne until 16th March 2022. Check website for session times.
Where: Comedy Theatre, 240 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Cost: From $85 plus booking fee
Your Comment
Do you know if this show is coming to Brisbane? I'd love to see it
by Gillian Ching (score: 3|4674) 126 days ago
I saw it tonight I agree that the singing and dancing was amazing however I was a bit bored a disappointment by the first act however the 2nd act really came together and was very emotional and moving so I ended up enjoying it- mainly because of the talent and the messages. However there wasn’t the over all standing ovations for any of the scenes or endings that you mentioned, however a few people stood up at the end including me during a particular bow. In fact I think that their may have been a substitute for Frankie’s role, and she was absolutely as incredible.
by Leanne Sampson-Bowden (score: 2|160) 115 days ago
by Fiona Anderson on 16/12/2021
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