Alanis Morissette and Her Jagged Little Pill Shirt
Alanis Morissette’s teenage angst and 1995 album Jagged Little Pill, along with her powerful voice, are emblematic of the ’90s. As the spiritual guide of feminist rock, Alanis Morissette proved there was a market for female singer-songwriters who could express their emotions while crafting pop melodies.
At the height of body-shaming, anti-sexiness and dollhouse culture, Morissette was one of the pioneers for social justice – she explored her body through music while inspiring people like Patti Smith, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan to fight back.
At the age of 12, Morissette achieved her breakthrough with the release of her debut album You Oughta Know and single “You Oughta Know,” an infectious hit that set her apart from other singers. This album went on to sell 33 million copies – becoming both the second-biggest selling album of the ’90s and 12th biggest all time.
This week, a musical based on the songs from Jagged Little Pill premieres on Broadway. Unlike other jukebox shows that sing directly into the audience’s first row, this work of fiction is highly charged and emotionally involved. It tackles enough hot-button issues like opioid addiction, race relations, bisexuality and sexual assault that it feels like Elizabeth Warren’s platform had been condensed into one evening.
Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning screenwriter who wrote the musical’s book, felt that its songs needed to be modernized for a contemporary audience and its narrative should be as intricate as the anguish that permeated its album. She and director Diane Paulus worked closely with Morissette over several workshops before arriving at an overall cohesive plotline.
As the score progresses, a white family struggles with a black daughter; a queer woman is rejected by her mother and there is even some lighthearted humor; songs such as “Not the Doctor,” “Ironic” and “Always Have a Plan” now take place during an unexpected therapy session.
Tom Kitt’s orchestrations accompany Morissette’s songs, giving them a theatre-textured vibe. Yet her lyrics and melodies remain just as poignant and inspiring as ever before.
Morissette and Cody have altered the album to fit the storyline, adapting several of her other anthems for the show. But perhaps most significantly, they address themes already simmering beneath the surface: misogyny, sexual assault, the opioid crisis and workaholism to name a few.
It’s an ambitious move, but it works. The musical doesn’t shy away from challenging topics and uses its frenetic energy and powerful performers’ voices to craft a show that won’t back down from confrontation and uncompromising views.
No surprise that this production, featuring an all-star cast, has earned 15 Tony nominations. This achievement speaks to Morissette’s vast song catalog and Cody’s ability to bring it alive onstage. This ambitious musical brings together social and political issues in an engaging, sometimes hilarious yet often challenging piece of entertainment.