Alanis Morissette’s 1995 album Jagged Little Pill turned the music industry on its head. The album has now sold 33 million copies worldwide. Morissette’s raw, angry, and powerful lyrics about bad relationships, horrible breakups, rage, and angst, struck a chord with Generation X.
Everyone who heard “You Oughta Know” at the time experienced the song as a powerful catharsis of rage and revenge. Morissette’s lyrics, such as – “And I’m here, to remind you/Of the mess you left when you went away/It’s not fair, to deny me/Of the cross I bear that you gave to me/You, you, you oughta know” – could easily speak to the Me Too movement against sexual harassment and assault today.
Now 43, the Canadian rock star is about to embark on a new version of the album, a Broadway show written by Diablo Cody. Diane Paulus directs the production, which will play at her creative home, the American Repertory Theater. Cody won an Academy Award for her screenplay for the 2007 coming-of-age film “Juno.”
Few details about the story have leaked, but word is that the story follows a couple and their teenagers, who are facing typically 1990’s challenges related to sex, drugs, race, and gender. The musical will not be a greatest-hits-biography, a la Jersey Boys. Instead, those who have seen it compare it to “Next to Normal,” the 2008 Tony and Pulitzer-winning rock musical that explores a suburban family coping with issues that are still raw today: sexual assault, gender identity, opioid addiction, transracial adoption, and body image. The show contains imagery from Women’s March as well as the Never Again gun-control movement, indicating that it is not dripping with 1990’s nostalgia.
The songs from Jagged Little Pill remain powerful and still feel relevant. It’s hard to identify another woman rock star who made an album that was unapologetically sexual. “Every time I scratch my nails down someone else’s back I hope you feel it,” she sings in “You Oughta Know.” The album wasn’t just about sexuality and anger. It flip-flops dramatically between those emotions and more quiet songs. On the song “Perfect,” she says: “If you’re flawless / Then you’ll win my love / Don’t forget to win first place / Don’t forget to keep that smile on your face.” Then her voice gets harsher, and the rest of the band jumps in. “I’ll live through you / I’ll make you what I never was / If you’re the best then maybe so am I / Compared to him / Compared to her.” This expression of paternal disapproval is tailor-made for a musical.
The American Repertory Theater website warns viewers that the production contains content that some audience members may find distressing: strong language, drug use and abuse, and sexual violence. The musical is expected to be a huge draw. Tickets are limited online to six per purchase.
Jagged Little Pill has been in development for two years, with workshops in the summer and fall in New York City. The production includes choreography by Olivier Award winner Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. The cast includes Broadway and theater veterans like Elizabeth Stanley (“On the Town” and “Million Dollar Quartet”), who plays Mary Jane, Sean Allan Krill (“Honeymoon in Vegas” and “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever”) as Steve, Lauren Patten (“Fun Home”) who portrays Jo, Derek Klena (“Anastasia” and “The Bridges of Madison County”) as Nick. Celia Gooding, daughter of Tony nominee LaChanze, a queer and woke young daughter. The cast is accompanied by a band, including eight musicians playing guitars, bass, violin and viola, keyboard, and drums.
Jagged Little Pill will run May 5 to July 15 at the American Repertory.