“Jagged Little Pill” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – January 31, 2024


“Jagged Little Pill”
Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

Jukebox musicals have dominated Broadway since “Mamma Mia’s” tribute to Abba songs and continuing through “Jersey Boys,” “& Juliet,” and “Beautiful” among others. Alanis Morissette’s Tony and Grammy winning musical “Jagged Little Pill,” based on her album, struggled on Broadway due to the Covid crisis but a rousingly exciting touring version is playing this week at ASU Gammage.

The show explodes over ASU Gammage’s gigantic stage in a constantly moving, dynamically throbbing production attributable to Diane Paulus’ unusually energetic staging enhanced by swirling scenery that becomes an integral part of the staging as the show shifts among a variety of locales as it probes an imperfect family.

The complicated story looks at the Healy’s – father Steve, mother Mary Jane, son Nick, and adopted daughter Frankie.  It takes almost three hours for this family to resolve their issues among multiple struggles, misunderstandings, and failures to accept unconventional situations.  It is a dark and melancholy look at the many things now confronting families but these scuffles have always been there but haven’t been discussed.

“Jagged Little Pill” brings the American musical theater into the 21st century while showing that awkward and challenging situations can be confronted if kept in perspective.  Some solutions used by society are not always helpful.  Mary Jane’s addictive painkillers being an example of something that doesn’t work as is the unrealistic fear of using professional medical consultation to solve relationship issues.  It is a somber and often negative look at contemporary challenges to life’s many dilemmas.

Morissette’s music with added songs from others and Paulus’ sharply defining staging make the depressing journey a memorable and exciting one.  A fine touring cast enacts the many complex roles with perceptive insight.

Remarkable is Julie Reiber’s Mary Jane that takes the performer from the depths of trying to function in a complex world by using opioids to ultimately confronting and acknowledging encounters by sincere emoting and lustily singing the remarkable songs. As her trying-to-be-normal son Nick, Dillon Klena is an impressionable but smart youth and Teralin Jones is the often-alienated Frankie who isn’t sure of her place in the family.  Benjamin Eakeley is the steadfast Steve who discovers family complexities he has chosen to ignore.  A large ensemble effectively portrays a variety of small but significant characters.

Two problems.  The first is the usual ASU Gammage issue of not being able to distinguish much dialogue or song lyrics, a critical requirement of Morissette’s meaningful and telling songs.  The other is that the almost three-hour running time has many of the family’s issues uttered repeatedly.

The 2024/25 Broadway Across America season will be announced Monday, March 4 at 7:30 p.m. after many other city seasons have already been announced.  Based on those announcements and the shows scheduled to tour, eight shows have already been set from the shows touring including “Back to the Future,” “Shucked,” “& Juliet,” “Kimberly Akimbo,” “Some Like It Hot,” “Company,” “Funny Girl,” “A Beautiful Noise,” “Parade,” and “Clue.”  Returning shows could include “Wicked,” “The Book of Mormon,” “Come From Away,” or “Mamma Mia.”  Plays, if they even stop here, would be “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” or “Life of Pi.”

The season is planned in New York by Broadway Across America. Two big questions remain.  The first is if the hit Broadway musical “Moulin Rouge” will ever show up on an ASU Gammage Broadway season.  The show has played many cities near Phoenix including Las Vegas and Orange County but unknown decision makers may have stopped the risqué show from a local engagement.  The other question is when will the local Broadway touring season move from one sold-out week to two or more weeks like other cities our size.

“Jagged Little Pill” continues through Sunday, February 4.  To order tickets, call the ASU Gammage box office at 480-965-3434 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: A-