When I was fourteen years old, an album called Jagged Little Pill changed my life forever. It became one of the biggest selling albums of all-time and earned songwriter/performer Alanis Morissette an array of awards including five Grammy’s and a Brit Award. I am still a fan to this day and even have a rather embarrassing tattoo on my back from when I was eighteen!
So, when I heard the album was being turned into a musical, I was obviously more than a little excited! The musical ‘Jagged Little Pill’ is currently performing in Boston for its pre-Broadway run and rumours are floating around that the show may come to London before landing in New York.
Now I don’t condone bootleg recordings but when it comes to a show like this (that I have been waiting my whole life for), I admit I didn’t think twice about listening to an audio recording of the show.
The musical features all thirteen songs from the album Jagged Little Pill, including the hidden CD track ‘Your House’. Also included are six songs from other Alanis albums (‘So Unsexy’, ‘That I Would Be Good’, ‘Thank You’, ‘Hands Clean’, ‘Unprodigal Daughter’ and ‘Uninvited’ plus two new songs written by Alanis for this show ‘Predator’ and ‘Smiling’.
The show peels back the layers of a seemingly perfect American family home and exposes the issues of a sexless marriage, prescription drug addiction, gender and race identity and sexual assault.
What is refreshing to hear, is that the songs don’t feel they have been shoehorned in to make them fit with the story (as tends to happen with most jukebox musicals). Alanis Morissette has worked closely with the writing of the show, changing lyrics where necessary to fit with the plot. The songs have been refreshingly brought up to date and mocks the albums youthful errors (Alanis was twenty years old when she wrote it) such as making fun of the song ‘Ironic’ and how its lyrics are in fact not ironic and just unfortunate (something Alanis has been having to laugh off for more than twenty years) – “that’s not ironic, that’s just shitty” they joke in the Musical.
Musically the show is incredible. It sounds like the backing tracks from the album are being played and not by a live band and things like harmonica solos have thankfully been omitted from the show (that would have been a little cringeworthy). The backing vocals and melodies in the show are phenominal and the songs are layered with musical theatre magic.
This musical doesn’t shy away from it’s rock music roots and some of the heaviest songs like ‘You Oughta Know’, ‘Forgiven’ and ‘Unprodigal Daughter’ seem to work best and bring the audience back to the time in their lives when they lived through Alanis with this album, to help get over relationship breakups. In fact, ‘You Oughta Know’ seems to make Alanis’ original version sound like a love song compared to the angst delivered in the Musical version!
As for the new songs, ‘Smiling’ is reminiscent of the 1997 City of Angels film song ‘Uninvited’ and talks about smiling through the pain of life and pretending you’re fine when really you are anything but. This song could have been lifted straight off of the album Jagged Little Pill and you wouldn’t believe it has been written twenty three years later. ‘Predator’ handles the difficult subject of the rape accusation in the show.
Not all of the songs are sung in their entirety and the ones that are tend to be broken out into verses with dialogue in between. This, whilst a little odd, adds to the charm of the show and how they haven’t been too precious about having every song sung in full as you would expect with most jukebox musicals. Another reason of why this seems to be much more of a new musical rather than one based on the songs of a well-known album.
Jagged Little Pill deals with themes that are hot topics in London right now (LGBTQ+ especially) and so I can imagine the show having a successful run there. However, some of the humour in the show is very ‘American’ and may risk coming over as cheesy to a UK audience.
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