The cast of Jagged Little Pill in the recording studio
The cast of Jagged Little Pill in the recording studio

Shutdown Spotlight: How Alanis Morissette Found Healing in Jagged Little Pill

When Broadway shut down on March 12, it closed the chapter on a truly remarkable season. In this series, we’re taking a look back at the shows that were thriving and thrilling audiences when the shutdown began. Like you, we can’t wait to see them back on the boards. After all, it’s #onlyintermission.

You oughta know the songs from Jagged Little Pill: After all, the seminal Alanis Morissette album is one of the top-selling records of all time. But a new Broadway musical adaptation will make you hear them in a whole new way. Just ask Alanis herself.

“I can’t even believe these songs have taken on a new life that has expanded what I even knew was possible,” Morissette revealed at a special sneak preview of the musical earlier this year. She added that she loves orchestrator Tom Kitt’s versions of her tunes so much that she wishes she could incorporate them into her own concerts. “When I’m performing live now, I’m like, Now I want to sing what he wrote!”

Morissette has become cheerleader-in-chief for Jagged Little Pill, which begins previews November 3 at the Broadhurst Theatre following a buzz-building premiere in Boston last summer. The seven-time Grammy winner is part of a creative team that matches Tony-winning Broadway stalwarts — including Kitt (Next to Normal) and director Diane Paulus (Pippin, Waitress) — with notable newbies like Oscar winner Diablo Cody (Juno), and choreographer-to-Beyoncé Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.

But as gung-ho as Morissette is now, the singer-songwriter was initially hesitant back when producers Vivek J. Tiwary, Arvind Ethan David, and Eva Price first approached her eight years ago about turning her album into a musical.

For one thing, she didn’t want the stage version to be a biography along the lines of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical or Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations. “The only way I would want to do this is if there were to be a story told that would match and intertwine and feel married to the music,” she recalled. “Because the last thing I wanted to do, to be perfectly transparent, was any kind of a jukebox musical. For me the songs and the story needed to be integrated.”

That part was easy, according to Cody, because rich stories already lay waiting in the score, which includes the entire album as well as songs drawn from other Morissette records, plus two new tunes written just for the show.

“If you listen to Jagged Little Pill, I feel like the characters are in there already,” Cody said. “I remember the first few times I revisited the album, I listened to the song ‘Mary Jane,’ and I just thought, ‘Oh, this is our main character. She’s right here.’ She told you everything you need to know about that woman, and I was just able to build it out from there. It’s not a typical jukebox musical situation, where you’re thinking, ‘OK, well, how can I shoehorn this hit into the story?’”

The plot revolves around the Healy family, whose seemingly perfect lives hide struggles and triumphs that speak to the up-to-the-minute urgency of the current state of our world. Paulus said, “When I listened to the album again, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, these songs were written yesterday for the world right now.’”

The music still rocks, Paulus noted, but the show also allows the creators to highlight its many shades and layers. “When we think about Jagged Little Pill and Alanis Morissette, we think of the courage of this badass rocker chick and this rage that is unleashed,” she said. “But when you listen, there is so much more going on. It’s so much about empathy and listening and relationships and reflection, and daring to look inside.”

Kitt’s work as an orchestrator aims to find new colors in the music itself, incorporating strings and threading in different voices to reflect character and create harmonies. “The great challenge with something like this is you’re working with an iconic, brilliant masterpiece. Everyone’s gonna know what you did, so there’s no hiding!” he said with a laugh. “I take it very seriously. It’s sacred, and so I go about everything in the adaption very carefully, with Alanis’s guidance and collaboration.”

As the musical gears up for its New York debut, the theater neophytes have found themselves thrilled by the creative process. “It’s better,” Cody joked when asked to compare Broadway to Hollywood. “As a writer, your dream is to be able to do things over and over again. I come from a world where reshoots are shameful and costly, but in this world, if you do it again, that’s part of the process. It just continually gets better. It’s such a luxury. I cannot get enough of it. I’m just intoxicated by the world.”

Morissette, meanwhile, said that collaborating on Jagged Little Pill has proven personally significant in ways she never expected. “Even as I traveled the planet performing these songs and seeing how they were resonating, there was still a profound loneliness for me,” she confided. “But this experience has brought me into this community, and has brought these songs and these stories to life in a way that has allowed the rubber to hit the road for them. It’s like I’ve hit pay dirt for these songs. Even with my having shared them, it still didn’t feel like it was a healing experience for me. It might have created healing, perhaps, for others, but for me personally it didn’t. Until now. That’s no small thing for me.”

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