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Jagged Little Pill

Jagged Little Pill

Lyrics by Alanis Morissette

Music by Alanis Morissette and Glen Ballard

Book by Diablo Cody

Director Diane Paulus

Photographs Daniel Boud

Theatre Royal until December 19

Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP

Sydney Theatre Reviews

Well the good news is that after it remained dark for five years during COVID and renovations, the Theatre Royal has finally reopened.

The GREAT news is that the first production is the Alanis Morissette musical, Jagged Little Pill which had 15 Tony Award nominations and won two.

It’s approaching Christmas and the Healy family in Connecticut is full of American wholesomeness.

The mother, Mary Jane, is creating her annual newsletter. Husband Steve has been given a promotion, son Nick has been admitted to Harvard, and teenage daughter, Frankie, is an artist and poet.

Behind the façade of perfection are some less desirable aspects. Mary Jane and Steve have their separate addictions, son Nick attends a party and major, life-changing personal, community and social consequences follow. Daughter Frankie has a special friend named Joanne who insists on be called Jo.

Many current issues such as rape, diversity, the justice system, victim blaming, addictions, misogyny, drug dealing and peer pressures are addressed.

As we get deeper into the plot, the audience is taken through feelings of joy, relief, frustration, gut-wrenching torment, and empaths will experience a degree of emotional and even physical pain. In the centre of the vortices, are Mary Jane (Natalie Bassingthwaighte) and Frankie (Emily Nkomo).

As Mary Jane’s ideal existence unravels, it seems that entropy will also be reflected in the wider community. Frankie experiences all of the usual teenage issues with the addition of sexual orientation confusion and being adopted. She’s the African American in an extremely white bread community. Both performers are necessarily outstanding in their pivotal roles. Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui ensured that they are strong triple threats.

Tim Draxl as Steve, Liam Head as Nick and Aydan as Phoenix provide solid support in the secondary roles. It’s unsurprising that the female parts are stronger considering that the creators of the music and the book are women, as is the director.

One of those characters is Bella whose experience sparked a movement that triggered change. Grace Miell is brilliant as she was tormented to emotional extremes, and her vocals are powerful.

In fact, Casting Director Natalie Gilhome was faultless in her selections.

So, are there any show-stoppers in Jagged Little Pill? Yes, there are two.

“No”, the protester anthem performed by Bella and the Company, was as rousing as “Do You Hear The People Sing?”, the battle cry in Les Miz.

The other “moment” is provided by Maggie McKenna as Jo. The teenager’s anguish, torment, frustration and anger explodes in her rendition of “You Oughta Know”. On opening night, it generated a mid-second act standing ovation that seemed to surprise the appreciative performer. It shows that in the right role, McKenna will stamp her mark as a powerhouse in musical theatre. Her vocals are sublime. If there’s a single highlight in the show, this is it.

The band, led by Peter Rutherford, didn’t play in an orchestra pit, but an orchestra mezzanine, and sounded much bigger than a nine-piece outfit.

The performances in this production are exceptional across the board, from the leads through to the ensemble cast members that include Isabella Roberts who is making her professional musical debut.

Because of their nature, opening night audiences are “papered”, and there are often standing ovations at the curtain call, and this one was well-deserved. In fact, both standing ovations were entirely warranted.

Jagged Little Pill is a fitting first production in the revitalised Theatre Royal and is definitely worth catching.


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