Jagged Little Pill - Play Review

Written by Grace Cooper

Trigger Warnings: discussion of drug abuse, depression, and sexual assault

If you want to watch a happy musical with tap dancing and bold costumes, then Jagged Little Pill is not for you. The jukebox musical Jagged Little Pill had come back to Sydney after its sold-out run, in December 2021. It has toured Melbourne and returned to Theatre Royal from July 9th to August 14th. Jagged Little Pill opened on Broadway in 2019 and has won a Grammy award for Best Musical Theatre Album in 2021. 

Jagged Little Pill is based on Alanis Morissette’s 1995 album of the same name and uses songs from this album in the stage show. The book is written by Diablo Cody with additional music by Michael Farrell and Guy Sigworth. Two new songs were added to the stage show including ‘Smiling’ and ‘Predator’. The music suits the stage show flawlessly and immaculately suits every scene and character's context, almost like it was written for the stage.

The show opens with Mary Jane Healy (Natalie Bassingthwaighte) writing the family’s annual Christmas card not fully exposing the troubles the family is having. The show also ends with this but expresses the family’s struggles throughout the year. The musical is very story based taking the audience on a journey with the Healys and their individual struggles, outlining how they overcame this. This musical highlights real issues, from drug abuse, pornography addiction, depression, interracial adoption, and sexual assault. 

As we follow the story of the Healy we discover Mary Jane (MJ) has become highly addicted to prescription pain medication after a car accident. After her script runs out it leads her to attain them on the street. She also struggles with the pressures of being the “perfect” mother as other mothers in their town are jealous of her. MJ relies on drugs to escape and numb the pain of reality and her mental health struggles. MJ’s story becomes one we follow very closely when she overdoes during the climax of the musical, addressing the addiction and reliability of drugs in adults not only adolescents.

Natalie Bassingthwaighte was perfect for the role, with her age being like MJ’s and having children of her own. She has also gone through issues with her own mental health which she has expressed to the media. Through this experience, she connects with MJ’s own issues of mental health and the pressures put on specific people within society, like mothers and in her case celebrities. She really showcased her strong emotional connection with MJ in Jagged Little Pill.

MJ’s husband, Steve Healy (Tim Draxl), struggles with a pornography addiction, the balance of work and home life whilst trying to rebuild his relationship with his wife (MJ) through counselling. Their child, Nick Healy (Liam Head) is the “perfect” child getting into Harvard and is a popular kid at school. MJ describes Nick as “the only thing she has done right”. Nick’s sister, Frankie Healy (Emily Nknomo) is adopted by the Healy family. She finds it difficult to discover who she really is as she has a different cultural background from the Healys. Frankie develops a close intimate relationship with her friend, Jo (Baylie Carson). Jo was played by understudy Baylie Carson on the night I was in the audience. Baylie Carson is an example of more gender-fluid roles within theatre, and she was very committed with her raw talent in Jo’s main song- “You Outta Know”. Jo was originally written as a non-binary character but as the Broadway original cast, Lauren Patten was cisgender it has created controversy regarding more gender fluid roles in theatre today. Both Baylie Carson and the original Australian cast of Jo, Maggie McKenna go by they/them pronouns and is an example of more progressive and accepting casting in musicals today

Her parents are unaware of Frankie becoming intimate with Jo but when she sleeps with Phoenix (Noah Mullins), they are disgusted and state “she isn’t ready”. Highlighting issues of sexual consent, parental guidance in sexual relationships as well as assuming sexuality. Frankie trusts Phoenix and he ends up letting her down when she runs away and needs a friend. Of course, Jo then turns up to help. Noah Mullins is to be praised for his dedication and commitment to every role he plays as well as his incredible talent in both acting and singing. He is a performer full of talent and has a bright future on stage ahead of him.

When Frankie and Nick attend a high school party, their school friend Bella (Grace Miell) becomes intoxicated and gets taken advantage of by Andrew Montefiore (Henry Rollo). Nobody believes Bella until Nick speaks up as a witness. This deals with the issue of women being blamed for rape rather than the men raping being the problem. MJ and Bella bond over their experience with rape as teenagers and almost seems like it’s a normal thing that women experience but cannot be spoken about. Rape and sexual assault are not common topics in musicals speak about and the issues that surround it in society like how women aren’t always believed when coming out about their experience and sometimes even being blamed.

This musical deals with heavy issues and makes the audience think about the way society is today and why certain things are accepted or not accepted. The music of Alanis Morrissette’s album suits the storyline perfectly almost like the songs were written for the stage. This is not a happy musical but one that provokes thought and questions the way we behave in society. Overall, this musical has impressive music cleverly integrated into a story about a family struggling, outlining issues we do not always speak about. It is a musical that should be watched by all, so society can improve and change for the better.

If you're in the mood to listen to the songs on repeat, check it out here!

Grace Cooper is studying Media and Arts (Theatre and Performance studies). She loves all things theatre and performing. Another love of hers is coffee, especially from the coffee cart, it has become a necessary part of her university life. Grace lives on campus at Basser College and is Basser Play Officer as well. She is super excited to be working with Blitz.

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