|Liam Head - Emily Nkomo - Natalie Bassingthwaighte - Tim Draxl
Music by Alanis Morissette & Glen
Ballard – Lyrics by Alanis Morissette
Scenery design by Riccardo Hernandez
– Costume design by Emily Rebholz
Lighting Design by Justin Townsend –
Sound Design by Jonathan Deans
Directed by Dianne Paulus – Resident
Director – Leah Howard
Musical Direction in Australia by
Theatre Royal Sydney, 9th
– 19th December 2021.
Opening night performance reviewed by
Alanis Morissette wrote these songs for her break-out album more than 25 years
ago, they have now been brilliantly repurposed by Diablo Cody for a musical
which feels very much like it could have been written this week, so
intelligently does it address issues with which the current generation is
wrestling; mental health, sexual assault, consent, drug addiction, sexual
identity and much more. No it’s not “The
Sound of Music”, but it is about family, and the issues it addresses resonate
strongly with contemporary audiences.
Little Pill” opens with Mary Jane Healy, (Natalie Bassingthwaighte) the wife
and mother of the outwardly perfect Healy family, writing her annual Christmas
letter. What she doesn’t put in her letter is that she’s struggling with a drug
habit which is rapidly getting out of control. Her successful husband, Steve
(Tim Draxl) who’s just received a raise at work, is hooked on pornography. Her 16 year-old coloured adopted daughter,
Frankie, is enthusiastically exploring her sexuality with her best friend, Jo,
(Maggie McKenna), and the apple-of-her-eye son, Nick, (Liam Head) is about to
become embroiled in a scandal caused not by anything he did, but by what he
|"Ironic" sung by Aydan (Phoenix) and Emily Nkomo (Frankie)
production of “Jagged Little Pill” is the first international production since
it opened on Broadway where it garnered no fewer than 15 Tony Award nominations
earlier this year. It’s also the second musical directed by Diane Paulus to be
seen in Sydney in recent times. The other was “Pippin” which opened in Sydney
in December 2020.
Covid restrictions from travelling to Australia herself, Paulus entrusted the
reproduction of her brilliant direction to Australian director, Leah Howard, and
that trust has been richly rewarded with an impeccably cast, tightly rehearsed
production which drew standing ovations from the first night audience.
|Emily Nkomo (Frankie) and Company
songs with their repetitious lyrics and idiosyncratic vocalisations are more
pop orientated than musical theatre. But in the hands of masterful vocalists of
the calibre of Natalie Bassingthwaighte and Tim Draxl, both fine actors, they
are deeply affecting, raw and uncompromising.
In arguably her
finest performance to date, Bassingthwaighte is completely believable as the
perfect parent, admired by her friends for her ability to cope with any
situation. Her gradual disintegration as she begins to lose control of her drug
dependency is disturbing to watch.
Tim Draxl as
the husband, who chooses to take refuge in pornography rather than face up to
the failure of his marriage, matches the complexity of her fine performance
with a finely nuanced performance of his own, particularly during a hilarious
scene in the marriage councillor’s office as their secrets are exposed.
Emily Nkomo, as the Healey’s adopted daughter Frankie, and Liam Head as their college
jock son, Nick, give assured, affecting performances, as do Grace Miell as the rape victim, Bella, and
Aydan as Jo’s competitor for Frankie’s affections. However, it’s Maggie
McKenna as Jo, who practically steals the show, winning a rare mid-performance
standing ovation for her unnervingly ferocious rendition of the anthem “You
constantly moving scenery, dazzling lighting design, and an energetic ensemble
who act as Greek chorus, alter egos to the principals, give their all to the
aggressive video-clip choreography, and sing up a storm, ensure that the show
moves along at a cracking pace. But as good as the singing is from the
principal players and the ensemble, Tom Kitt’s clever musical arrangements,
enthusiastically performed by Peter Rutherford’s superb band, tended to make it
difficult to fully appreciate the complexity of Morissette’s lyrics.
you’re among those in the audience who obviously appeared to know every lyric
of every one of Morissette's songs by heart, this will not deter you from
seeing this brilliant production, which despite it’s challenging, often
confronting content, manages to end, if not happily, certainly on an optimistic
|Grace Miell and Company ( You Oughta Know)
A stunning choice
to launch the superbly renovated Theatre Royal, “Jagged Little Pill” will enjoy
only a very limited season in Sydney, before moving on to seasons in Melbourne
and Perth, but don’t despair; it’s already been announced for a return season
in Sydney from 9th July, 2022.
Photos by Daniel Boud
This review first published in CITY NEWS on 12.12.21.