The album Jagged Little Pill was sonic mother’s milk to me; as a teenage girl in the Nineties, I’d sobbed along to “You Learn,” screamed along to “You Oughta Know,” and defended the lyrics to “Ironic.” I’d felt seen by Alanis Morissette, a fellow conflicted Catholic school girl who’d also felt the pressure to be perfect, a good girl, a peacemaker in her family. Now, as an adult, to be given the opportunity to create a narrative around those intense, memorable, masterfully crafted songs— not to mention that fact that the show could potentially wind up on Broadway and become the coolest item on my Wikipedia page— I had to do it! This was probably the easiest “yes” in the history of my career.
As it turns out, the “yes” was the only easy part of the process. The truth is, I had no idea what I’d just enthusiastically signed up for. First of all, I’d never so much as written a play, let alone the book for a major musical. Secondly, I live in Los Angeles, which is an excellent home base for a features and television writer but a tremendously inconvenient one for a wannabe-Broadway-librettist. I had no idea how much time I was about to spend in rehearsal rooms on the East Coast, away from my kids, frequently doubting if I had any business writing anything, let alone this complex and sensitive story that had to measure up to the brilliance of Alanis Morissette’s music. (If it didn’t, I would never forgive myself—nor would audiences, critics, and possibly the goddess Alanis herself. NO PRESSURE!)
I didn’t exactly make it easy on myself, or anyone else, by having the show tackle the raw emotions and themes laid bare in Alanis’s original album. This is a record that tells us to “wake up,” “swallow it down,” and confront our fears. These songs suggest that we subject ourselves to that which hurts (and ultimately heals). Yet somehow, Alanis’ songs never feel gloomy or pedantic— actually, they feel euphoric – and that’s what we aimed to achieve with the musical. Working on this show, I am often struck by how inherently theatrical the music is, even before it’s been rearranged for the theater. The romance, laughter, tears, sex, and loss are already there, embroidered into the lyrics and melodies.
As we prepared the show for its initial run at A.R.T. in Cambridge, I found myself in the thick of the action daily, working more closely with actors than I ever have in the world of film and TV. This proved to be a major responsibility but also an absolute joy. Our cast taught me so much and collaborating with them daily was a privilege. As we prepare for the Broadway run, I look forward to unlocking even more about these characters with the amazing performers who embody them.
But the best part of co-creating this show has been working with our creative team: the incredible Diane Paulus, who is as knowledgeable about Broadway as I am ignorant of it, Tom Kitt, whose talent exceeds “brilliant” and goes all the way to “freakish,” Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, whose choreography is the very soul of our show, and of course, Alanis Morissette, who has been an unbelievably gracious and present collaborator. Writing this book may not have been easy, but it is easily the most rewarding assignment I’ve ever accepted. I may have been naive when I jumped onboard without a second thought, but as one of my favorite song says: “I recommend biting off more than you can chew to anyone. I certainly do.”