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Kiran Gupta reviews Jagged Little Pill at Theatre Royal Sydney.
It’s hard to imagine that a show would ever be so good that the crowd would send up to applaud in the middle of the second act. In fact, I have never seen a standing ovation at the theatre at any time other than the end of the show. It’s hard to imagine a show living up to that kind of reception. But it did. While it’s a huge call, I would go as far as saying this was the best musical I have ever seen. Yes, it was that good.
The musical is based on the life and songs of Alanis Morrisette. But don’t think this is another jukebox musical like Queen or We Will Rock You. Unlike those musicals, where the songs sometimes feel sandwiched into the plot, the transitions here are seamless, as if the songs were actually written for the show. I’d never truly appreciated the brilliance and nuance of Morrisette’s lyrics prior to seeing the show, but the libretto really allows them to shine (except for one moment where ‘Ironic’ is set in an English classroom environment where, amusingly, the students question if there is actually irony in the lyrics.) The show feels current, with a focus on issues that are topical and relevant and yet the music still gives it a feel of timelessness. It’s truly the perfect combination.
And then there’s the cast. Talk about a perfectly cast musical. Natalie Bassingthwaite takes the lead role as Mary-Jane, the matriarch of the family and does it so well. Even though in some areas her voice isn’t quite as strong as some of the other cast members, her authority when she acts and presence around the stage gives the show credibility and provides the structural glue that holds the show together. Tim Draxl, Liam Head and Aydan are also all excellent in their supporting roles.
The real stars of this show are the three leads, Emily Nkomo, Maggie McKenna and Grace Miell. Their performances were some of the best I’ve ever seen on a musical theatre stage. They combined technical brilliance with raw emotion and incredible presence. They made the show stand out. McKenna in particular gave one of the best performances I have ever seen on stage (which led to the aforementioned mid-show standing ovation) when they sung ‘You Oughta Know’ in the second act. It was jaw-dropping – charisma combined with incredible singing. The audience around me was gasping when McKenna was singing. It was the perfect performance and worth the price of admission in itself.
The ensemble were also really strong throughout. Their performance was tight, refined and backed up with really strong technical foundations. The singing was particularly impressive, with the movement around the stage also complementing the performance nicely. The set design, lighting and costuming were also seamless and solid throughout.
Some of the less noticeable things were also very impressive. I particularly liked that the orchestra pit was above the stage rather than below the stage and out of sight as it gave more of a feel of a live performance; especially after so long, it was nice to get that ‘feel’ of live music again. The spotlight was also placed upon them in crucial moments, which was a nice touch. The cast inviting the crew out at final bows was also appreciated by the opening night audience and really gave the sense of an ensemble, which shone through in the performance as well.
The Theatre Royal was also a great venue. Newly refurbished and in the heart of Sydney (a 7ish minute walk from Wynyard), it had everything you’d want for theatre. The acoustics were great, the design of the foyer areas was really nice and most importantly, the tiering and steepness of the seating was perfect. We were sitting about halfway up in the dress circle and we had a perfect view of the stage (even with a few very tall people sitting in front of us). This is not always the case and is a huge plus when a venue gets this right.
After some thought, I really cannot come up with anything constructive to say about this show apart from how good it was. It was truly flawless. While it is only on for a short season (until mid-September), I want to see it at least two or three more times before it leaves. It was that good. More than any other show, I’d advise everyone to get down and see this show. It’s current, it’s witty, it’s entertaining and the music will blow you away.
Jagged Little Pill is playing at the Theatre Royal Sydney until 11 September. Save up to $256 by using this link to find tickets. Alternatively, TodayTix is offering a limited amount of $45 tickets on a first-come, first-serve basis each day which you can find out more about here.
Image: Supplied (Photographer: Daniel Boud)