A repeat listen of Alanis Morissette’s seminal album Jagged Little Pill can offer listeners an instantaneous window into the era it debuted, the whirling harmonica and guitar of the opener “All I Really Want” scoring the grit and frustration of a young woman in the mid ’90s. Turning 17 the day after the album dropped, Diablo Cody was not far from the age Morissette was when the singer-songwriter put pen to paper. And while she insists her writing at that time would now be considered “a cringe fest,” Cody connected with what Morissette vocalized.
“There was something in the air, and people cared,” the Oscar-winning screenwriter recalls. “There was a spirit of rebellion, and I was totally feeling it. Jagged Little Pill was aligned with that.”
But Jagged Little Pill, the new Broadway musical inspired by and featuring Morissette’s tracks, is not about the spirit of the ’90s. Instead, Cody’s script injects the artist’s pathos into a surge of contemporary conversations. If audiences are affected by the myriad of topics explored, from the opioid crisis to racial identity, try living it. “When I wake up in the morning, I have anxiety about the climate emergency, about gun violence, the Presidency, racial tensions. I have anxiety about people in my family who are struggling with addiction. So to me, this is an accurate representation of how a lot of us feel right now.”
Morissette had discussed bringing her album to the stage years before Cody’s involvement, and the script writer joined the project when it had not much more than a director (Tony winner Diane Paulus) and a catalog of songs, like “Mary Jane,” which inspired the show’s eponymous lead, or “Perfect,” which illuminated the pressures on the family to maintain their status in the community.
Using songs as story-building bricks presented a new challenge and opportunity for Cody to “make [the lyrics] fresh by putting them in new situations.” Similarly, writing for the theatre is a fresh change. “As a writer, I’ve never been more indulged,” she says. “To see what works and what doesn’t work? You never get to do that with a movie. I can’t tell you how much better my filmography would be if I got the opportunity to run a film out of town and then reshoot everything.”
The one perk Hollywood lots have over rehearsal studios: the food. “I miss craft services, and no one needs it more than musical theatre actors. Where are their snacks? Those people are dancing their asses off!”
Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?