Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 10, 2023

Review: The Bushnell, "Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, The Musical"

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
May 21 – May 14, 2023
by Jarice Hanson

When Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette’s album, “Jagged Little Pill,” hit the charts  in 1995, it became a world-wide hit and ushered in a new style of music called “alternative rock.” Fast forward 25 years, and the Broadway musical penned by Diablo Cody won the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical. Cody has created a story behind the music that sets the piece as a domestic drama, full of topics such as opioid addiction, Me Too, gay rights, gender performativity, and other social challenges that continue to perplex in contemporary times.

“Jagged Little Pill" may be one of the most polished touring performances ever to grace the stage of The Bushnell. One reason for the success of the company is its attention to casting exceptional singers—not only are two of the leads seasoned Broadway veterans, but the younger performers all have the vocal dynamics that honor the original music while infusing the production with high-octane energy and passion.

Heidi Blickenstaff plays the lead, the mother of an upscale family of four, comprised of her loving, but workaholic husband played by Chris Hoch; their biological son, played by Dillon Klena; adopted daughter, Lauren Chanel, confronts her bisexuality and fitting into the white family as a person of color. Blickenstaff played the lead on Broadway when the show reopened after pandemic restrictions were lifted, and she and Hoch have wonderful chemistry together.

There is not a weak singer in the group, and there are some amazing and unusual voices. As Jo, the daughter’s best friend/lover, Jade McLeod was an immediate crowd pleaser with her rich, low voice lending a sense of gravity to the problems of high school angst and parental annoyance.  Hoch’s vocal range is dynamic—and in a tapestry of voices in a hall that sometimes blurs the words of the singers, his diction and stage presence turned what might be expected to be the role of an absent husband/father into a hero. 

Cody’s words are often clever and witty, and director Diane Paulus creates stage pictures that give the script’s words deeper meaning. Creative set pieces designed by Riccardo Hernandez give just enough suggestion of place to guide the eye toward the action with no distraction. The onstage band conducted by Matt Doebler placed high above the actors on the stage are occasionally visible to remind us that the music drives this show, and this arrangement works perfectly to remind us that this show is first about the music, and second, about us.

It’s easy to say what “Jagged Little Pill” is not. It is not a typical jukebox musical, nor is it designed to teach a moral lesson. It is a “slice of life” look at contemporary problems, many of which will resonate with audiences, in the same vein of shows like “Next to Normal.”   

For audiences who know the music or are particularly attuned to the controversial topics of the show, this production is sure to please. But because the show attempts to cover so many difficult topics, it could be said that it never goes into depth enough to suggest anything but a superficial resolution to the problems of the family, or the cultural problems of the day.