Playing at TPAC

An Ethereal Little Musical about a ‘Jagged Little Pill’

The album “Jagged Little Pill” was released on 13 June 1995 by Canadian-American singer Alanis Morissette. It was her third album and most successful to date, with over 33 million copies sold. It earned double diamond in sales, making Alanis Morissette the first Canadian to achieve the feat. Written and released in the prime days of post-grunge and alternative rock, it was Alanis’ first album in the genre, her previous two being pop/electronic. The album represented a huge shift in her musical style, and it had a huge impact on the music industry, earning nine Grammy nominations and winning five. To this day, the album holds significant influence on the music scene. The musical “Jagged Little Pill” by Broadway is an example of such.

I went to see the musical on March 1st, hosted at Andrew Jackson Hall in the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Entering at the last minute, it was nearly sold out, almost every seat filled; the crowd was a melting pot of all of America’s generations, from early Baby Boomers to young Gen Zers, like myself. I hurried to my seat and sat down just as the lights dimmed.

The musical builds a story using the lyrics from all the songs of Jagged Little Pill. It centers around a nuclear family: a mother, Mary Jane Healy, her Harvard-bound son Nick Healy, her stubborn and activist daughter Frankie Healy and her workaholic husband, Steve Healy. Supporting characters include grungy teenager Jo and popular high schooler Bella. The musical follows the story of Mary Jane and her struggle with drug abuse and rape trauma, while pushing her son to be the best he can be for Harvard. Frankie, an adopted child, often feels inadequate and turns to activism and poetry to release her frustrations. She begins a relationship with Jo, whilst Mary Jane and Steve struggle with their relationship. Frankie cheats on Jo, and then Nick attends a high school party where Bella is drugged and raped. Mary Jane overdoses on fentanyl and finally reveals her rape survival story, prompting Nick to go to the police and testify as a witness. Frankie and Jo make up but choose to stay friends, and all together, the cast sings the anthemic “You Learn,” the second single release from Jagged Little Pill.

Jade McLeod

Overall, the writers did an excellent job creating a story from the songs of Jagged Little Pill. Alanis Morissette’s album is mostly formed of personal stories based on her life experience, particularly romantic relationships. The lyrics perfectly matched many of the scenes, especially the scene where Jo finds out Frankie cheated on her. She performs “You Oughta Know,” which was without a doubt the best performance of the entire musical. Jade McLeod’s voice is both smooth and gravelly, angelic and growly. While the instrumentalism of the original album is more typical of grunge and alternative rock (distorted guitar, keyboard, heavy drumming, slightly growly vocals), orchestrator Tom Kitt decided to add strings to the ensemble. This was a beautiful and genius touch to the arrangement, as the strings were much better at mimicking the emotions in several songs, particularly the closing song “You Learn.” At times, the storyline felt busy, since so many plotlines were happening at once in such a short time, as well as the choreography including at least a dozen dancers at any one time. However, the acting and vocals certainly make up for its flaws. To bring even more praise, I thought the costume design to be a genius of its own, with each outfit clearly reflecting the personality of the character (mom jeans and a simple top for mother Mary Jane, suit and tie for workaholic Steve, ripped sweater and shorts for rebellious Frankie, baggy jeans and sweater for alternative Jo).

This musical is a beautiful, ethereal masterpiece, built from another masterpiece, and absolutely worth the ticket. It beautifully encapsulates the music of Alanis Morissette and thoroughly and articulately tells the story of many heartbreaking experiences thousands of Americans go through every year. It was a hard watch, with many tears shed, but well done.

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