Pop culture audiences older than 30 will recall 90s Billboard Hot 100 charts plastered with songs by grunge idol and Canadian musician Alanis Morissette. Dubbed the “Queen of Alt-Rock Angst” by Rolling Stone, Morissette revamped her squeaky-clean pop image with soul-splicing lyrics and heavy-handed rock influence through the release of her third studio album “Jagged Little Pill.” The album sold more than 33 million copies, and in 1996, Morrisette won her first two Grammy awards for Album of the Year and Best Rock Album at the 38th ceremony.
Morissette’s gritty vocals and dense storytelling — a joint songwriting effort with producer Glen Ballard — captivated new audiences for years following the “Jagged Little Pill” release. If Generation Z members aren’t familiar with Morissette’s legacy, however, she’s reinvented herself once again via a Tony-award winning jukebox musical of the same name.
Featuring two new songs, “Jagged Little Pill,” the musical, was created in collaboration with “Jennifer’s Body” screenwriter Diablo Cody. For the first time, audiences can experience the story centered on Morissette’s lyrics as the production embarks on its first national tour, which was launched by a successful opening night on September 14 in Los Angeles at the Pantages Theatre and played through Sunday, October 2.
The show hosted a rambunctious crowd at its debut despite a brief stop caused by technical difficulties during act two. A multi-narrative story particular to modern social issues unfolded on the Pantages stage, hoisted by Morissette’s transparent lyrics, Tom Kitt’s edgy orchestration with an onstage band, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s restless choreography and Diane Paulus’ stunning direction.
The plot of “Jagged Little Pill” surrounds the Healy family, a suburban trope of individuals forced to face a dynamic set of problems in their Connecticut neighborhood: Mary Jane “MJ” Healy (Heidi Blickenstaff), a “fix-it” mother burdened with maintaining the perfect family image, suffers from a worsening opioid dependency; her husband Steve (Chris Hoch) is a workaholic with a porn addiction; their son Nick (Dillon Klena) is a prized child who’s just been admitted to Harvard when his future threatens to upend itself upon withholding information about the rape of his longtime friend Bella (Allison Sheppard); and adopted Black and bisexual daughter Frankie (Lauren Chanel) turns to activism in place her family’s total acceptance of her.
The performers who portray the women of the Healy family, along with Frankie’s partner Jo (Jade McLeod), stole the spotlight from their male co-stars. Broadway veteran Heidi Blickenstaff delivered a duplicitous reprise of her role as Mary Jane, struggling to overcome her family’s imperfections through substance abuse — a haunting performance comparable to Alice Ripley’s Diana Goodman in “Next to Normal” on Broadway in the late 2000s. Blickenstaff shifts from seriousness to dry humor, garnering robust laughter from the audience; her jokes about family holidays and hot yoga were well-received by the L.A. crowd — overheard discussing her one-liners during the intermission. Meanwhile, Blickenstaff’s vocals across the stage, but mainly in her chilling rendition of “Uninvited,” demanded attention from audience members in the most alluring and unsettling way.
In her national tour debut, Lauren Chanel exhibits the almost-too-meta teenage daughter of the family, Frankie. Chanel’s boisterous voice and punchy energy compliments her renditions of Morissette’s “Unprodigal Daughter,” scream-shouting lyrics about running away from home, and “Ironic,” sang out as a spoken-word poem to her classmates and newfound love interest Phoenix (Rishi Golani).
Golani’s character is likable despite his getting between Frankie and Jo’s relationship. While this part of the story is difficult to watch for any person who knows the pain of teenage heartbreak, it leads to the most anticipated number of the show, “You Oughta Know.” McLeod’s performance of Morissette’s most popular song was the standout performance of the night. The depths of McLeod’s voice and passion in her performance led to a standing ovation from the audience near the end of the second and final act.
Following the casts’ final bows, the audience was delighted with a surprise appearance by Alanis Morissette, Diablo Cody and Glen Ballard on stage. Morissette saluted the touring cast for a job well done and a tough road ahead, acknowledging the fervor and vigor required to uphold a show like “Jagged Little Pill.” The sparks set off by the opening act to Broadway in Hollywood’s 2022-2023 season are the result of a performance ready to invigorate audiences and complement Morissette’s music, so long as they’re prepared to leave Pantages with more energy and anarchy in their system than they arrived with.