‘Jagged Little Pill’ stage musical is all you really want (and more) from Morissette’s seminal work

Directed by Diane Paulus, “Jagged Little Pill” is one of the most explicitly in-your-face protest musicals since “Hair.”

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Heidi Blickenstaff reprises her Broadway role as Mary Jane in the North American touring production of “Jagged Little Pill,” now playing at the Nederlander Theatre.

Heidi Blickenstaff reprises her Broadway role as Mary Jane in the North American touring production of “Jagged Little Pill,” now playing at the Nederlander Theatre.

Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

Alanis Morissette’s 1995 album “Jagged Little Pill” was a breakthrough in cathartic, chart-topping, sing-along-while-banging-the-steering-wheel rage.

The Tony Award-winning musical of the same name — which opened Wednesday night at the Nederlander Theatre — channels all the fury that made the album’s title track a ubiquitous, chart-topping hit and helped propel the record’s pile-driving percussive melodies and lyrics to some 33 million in record sales.

But like its source material, “Jagged Little Pill” the stage musical is talking about more than the angst elicited by a nasty break-up, or, to a lesser degree, a fly in your chardonnay.

Directed by Diane Paulus, “Jagged Little Pill” is one of the most explicitly in-your-face protest musicals since “Hair.” Like “Hair,” it’s also wildly entertaining, one hypnotic, anthemic banger after the next (music by Morissette and Glen Ballard, additional music by Michael Farrell and Guy Sigsworth), bringing the power of an arena-concert to a comparatively intimate theater.

‘Jagged Little Pill’

jagged little pill

Where: James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph

When: Through April 23

Tickets: $35 - $125

Run-time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission

Info: BroadwayInChicago.com


The musical isn’t subtle. Its heart is literally written on the picket signs its characters brandish like urgent headlines through the plot’s various rallies: “No More Thoughts and Prayers.” “Women Life Freedom.” “Believe Survivors.” “Being Gay is Like Glitter. It Never Goes Away.”

It could come off as a cynical or contrived attempt to capitalize on headlines — those placards seem to have been updated since the musical began life pre-pandemic. But trust and believe: While the hits from “Jagged Little Pill” — “Ironic,” “All I Really Want,” “One Hand in My Pocket,” “You Oughta Know” — were penned decades ago, its stage musical incarnation captures voices of several generations, from Gen Z to Boomers.

Despite tackling addiction and gender-based violence, “Jagged Little Pill” is often also wryly funny thanks in large part to Tony-winning bookwriter Diablo Cody (whose Oscar-winning screenplay for “Juno” had a lighter but similarly acerbic wit).

Cody’s plot is structured soundly around the music, a bit of structural wisdom that eludes many a jukebox musical where the go-to formula means finagling the music around the story.

The story here is centered on the picture-perfect suburban Healy family, anchored by Oxycontin-addicted mom Mary Jane (Heidi Blickenstaff, reprising her Broadway role, consistently delivering a belt worthy of an arena tour). She’s in a sexless marriage with Steve (Chris Hoch), a workaholic who doesn’t notice his wife’s spiral from prescriptions to street Fentanyl.

Jade McLeod as Jo (left) and and Lauren Chanel as Frankie in the North American Tour of “Jagged Little Pill.” 

Jade McLeod as Jo (left) and and Lauren Chanel as Frankie in the North American Tour of “Jagged Little Pill.”

Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Son Nick (Dillon Klena) is headed to Harvard — where he doesn’t want to go — after 18 years of invasively supervised, highly pressurized school/volunteer activities aimed at getting him in. Younger daughter Frankie (Lauren Chanel) is the only Black member of the family, adopted as a baby through a Catholic charity. Mary Jane’s insistence that “I don’t see color” doesn’t help Frankie navigate a world that definitely does.

Other crucial players include Jo (Jade McLeod), Frankie’s nonbinary best friend, and Phoenix (Rishi Golani), whose arrival turns Jo into an afterthought for Frankie. Finally, there’s Bella (Allison Sheppard), whose experience at a house party ultimately forces the Healys to confront their own fundamental damage.

Factor in choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s alternately spikey and melt-y (at times Pilobolus-reminiscent) choreography and that killer score and you’ve got a show that grabs your heart and won’t let go.

Blickenstaff’s Mary Jane is at the center, embodying all the tropes you’d expect from a self-described “stuck-up bitch from Connecticut,” and all the humanity of a woman who learned early to survive by overachieving and keeping her emotions on mute, at loudest. Her delivery of “Smiling” is a high point, a mesmerizing merger of lyrics, choreography and music, with Mary Jane moving forward backward through a day where spin class, lattes and family are minor distractions from the main business at hand: getting high and keeping it a secret.

Jade McLeod and the North American Touring Company of JAGGED LITTLE PILL. Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2022 (1).jpg

Jade McLeod as Jo and the cast of “Jagged Little Pill.”

Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

Sheppard stops the show in “Predator, (like “Smile,” one of two songs Morissette wrote after releasing 1995’s “Jagged Little Pill”), which follows her through the fateful party.

Chanel and Golani make “Ironic” an empowering ode to both literary license and the enduring power of English Grammar 101. (As the show makes clear, the definition of “irony” isn’t exactly correct in the song “Ironic.”)

But the splashiest musical firestorm comes with McLeod’s delivery of “You Oughta Know.” It comes in the context of Jo’s anger at Frankie, but the context is bigger. Way bigger. There’s a reason all those placard signs are featured so prominently. Now is a time for shouting.

“Jagged Little Pill” gets that, while also being a top-tier slice of musical theater.

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