After a run at A.R.T. in Cambridge, Massachusetts—and a ton of hype—Jagged Little Pill officially opened at the Broadhurst Theatre December 5. Featuring a score of songs made famous by Alanis Morissette, most of which came from the titular Grammy-winning album, the show captures the anger and angst of 1995 Morissette and infuses it with the perspective of 2019 Morissette and her collaborators Tony-winning director Diane Paulus (Pippin) and Oscar-winning writer Diablo Cody (Juno).
The musical follows the Healy family: Steve, Mary Jane, their son Nick, and their daughter Frankie. Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley) is still dealing with an injury from a car accident—an experience that brings up old trauma and she becomes hooked on her pain medication. She’s comforted by the success of her high-achieving son Nick (Derek Klena) but struggling with her relationship as well as a broken marriage to workaholic Steve (Sean Allan Krill) and with her daughter Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding), a black adoptive child in a white family and grappling with her sexuality and her social activism when a classmate of hers suffers sexual trauma.
Playbill caught up with the cast and creative team of the musical on the red carpet at the Edison Hotel and they disclosed backstage secrets about the Broadway production, how it was built, and the moments they most look forward to.
1.This Jagged Little Pill found its roots in the common experience of its three primary creators.
Paulus is a mom of two, Cody is a mom of three, and Morissette is also (as of August) a mom of three. “That’s where our conversations started and I think it’s not coincidental that this show has a mom in it,” Paulus tells Playbill. “We’re looking generationally to what it means to be Alanis now and dealing with family and the new young generation that is going to change the world, and that is a dynamic that is built into the show.
2. The creative team did intense research in order to tackle these current issues with authenticity and empathy.
“We were so committed to doing this with integrity. The people that we worked with, starting from staff from the Harvard Medical School who talked to us and coached us on the opioid epidemic and how to understand it,” says Paulus, “coming into New York [and] working with an Impact board organizations that came and did actor training, research, we learned how to speak with audience members after the show. What is the best way to show empathy with survivors? And I think every single member of this company took that to heart and wanted to be rigorous and mindful about it. That affected every aspect.”
3. The ensemble creates the internal and external worlds of the show.
As choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui says of his ensemble, “They are witness. That’s the first thing.” At the same time, “I feel these characters around are reflections of the family but they are also your neighbors.”
“We sometimes know more than the characters know and we’re there almost as a forewarning, and then there’s times we’re reflecting what each character is going through at that moment,” says ensemblist Ezra Menas. “Everyone can have their own reaction and, although there’s one major theme, every person brings their own lived experience to that moment.”
Kelsey Orem, a swing on the show, adds, “Diane said the idea of the ensemble is the idea of the Greek chorus … that pushes and pulls the narrative in a certain way that pushes the characters to do things and comments on it.”
4. Lauren Patten hears Morissette’s lyrics very differently in the context of the musical.
“What Alanis wrote is just a gold mine,” she says of the Act 2 power anthem “You Oughta Know.” Playing Jo, Patten hears the beginning of the chorus in a whole new light. “‘And I’m here to remind you’… I think I always sort of felt it put together casually ‘And I’m here to remind you’ and as an actor in this song, because of the way the song is structured, it feels like the character is saying ‘I’m here!’ See me. [Then] ‘To remind you.’”
5. Celia Rose Gooding did her homework for her Broadway debut.
Gooding says she did a lot of soul-searching and a lot of therapy when figuring out who her character of Frankie is. But she also did a lot of reading. “I was reading 20 Things Adoptive Kids [Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew] and The Primal Wound—both such important books about adoption and what that feeling is and what it means to be adopted and where you are in your headspace. It’s a lot of vital information and I’m really grateful I got it. Also shout out to Angela Tucker. She helped me out. Transracial adoptee. She’s an icon.”
6. Gooding relishes the opportunity to play a bisexual woman of color and represent her own community.
“I’m so grateful that I’m allowed to represent bisexual people as not the antagonist of the queer story,” she says. “She’s proud and she will fight for it. Bisexuality in the queer community has this stigma of greed and gluttony. Although it’s easy to paint Frankie as this kind of person if you take the time to see her in her fullness you see she’s just a kid making choices and trying to figure it out.”
7. Patten and Gooding have the same favorite moment in the show.
Both actors most look forward to “Hand in My Pocket.” “It’s just the most fun,” says Gooding. Patten adds, “it’s one of the most free joyous moments of the show.”
8. Morissette wrote two original songs for the show—and it was a secretive process.
Kathryn Gallagher sings one of the new songs Morissette wrote explicitly for the musical with “Predator.” She was sent a demo of Morissette singing the new song, signed an NDA, and stuck her headphones in. “I remember walking my dog and listening to it for the first time and bursting into tears because I was like, ‘I’m going to be the first person to sing this song other than Alanis.’ She’s such a poet,” Gallagher recalls. As for Elizabeth Stanley, she stopped listening to Morissette sing versions of anything in the show “because she’s so amazing and I never wanted to be caught copying her because it would never be as good.” But Stanley brings her own vocal chops and emotion to “Smiling,” which she says she approached like any of the other songs in the show—from a place of character.
9. The Grammy-winning singer gave her cast a one-of-a-kind gift.
After the out-of-town production at A.R.T., Morissette gifted her cast each a gold necklace with a jagged little pill. Many of the company sported them last night, including Krill, Klena, and Gooding.