In 1995 a then-struggling Canadian singer-songwriter by the name of Alanis Morrisette released her third album, Jagged Little Pill. The album went on to enjoy seismic success, spawning multiple hit singles, global chart success, selling over 30 million copies and influencing the pop-rock genre for generations to come.
Jagged Little Pill saw Morrisette move away from the dance-pop that had dominated her first two albums to explore her angst and aggression at a wide range of topics ranging from failed relationships (You Oughta Know) and predatory men (Right Through You), to religion (Forgiven) and the population’s apathy towards the world we live in (Wake Up). One of the album’s most successful singles, Ironic, was the topic of a widespread linguistic debate on whether the lyrics to the song actually fit the definition of irony or was a malapropism on Morrisette’s part.
Since its release in the mid-90s, Jagged Little Pill has consistently made ‘definitive album’ lists including the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and the book 1001 Albums to Hear Before You Die. Artists including P!nk, Michelle Branch, Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry have cited the album as a major inspiration. It was in 2013 that news first broke that the album was being turned into a musical with Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Tom Kitt working on orchestrating the album for the stage. Almost 10 years later; Jagged Little Pill: The Musical is launching in the UK in the autumn, but what can audiences expect?
Jukebox musicals are dime a dozen in the modern theatrical landscape, designed to ignite the interests of the mass markets and the hordes of tourists in major cities who want to tick off ‘see a show’ from their bucket lists – think ABBA’s Mamma Mia!, Queen’s We Will Rock You, Jersey Boys based on the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and TINA: The Tina Turner Musical.
This kind of musical tends to be a whistle-stop autobiographical tour through an artists’ life, from fighting the naysayers to global success, all done to the soundtrack of their biggest hits. Here’s where Jagged Little Pill intended to break the mould. This musical is not at all autobiographical and playwright Diablo Cody – who also wrote the screenplay for the 2007 film Juno – has instead decided to write an entirely original plot.
The musical follows a suburban American family trying to paint a picture-perfect facade, whilst caught in the crossfire of a multitude of contemporary and social issues. A mother trying to hide her reliance on opioids; a father addicted to pornography; a queer, activist daughter trying to force change on everything from climate change to gun violence; an image-conscious son dealing with the rape of a close friend. Every character is given a complex subplot that feeds into the Jagged Little Pill’s overarching narrative.
Alongside the inclusion of the majority of Jagged Little Pill’s tracklist, the musical also uses songs from several of Morrisette’s other studio albums including “Thank U” from Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, “Hands Clean” from Under Rug Swept, “Unprodigal Daughter” from Feast on Scraps and two new songs written for the musical – ”Smiling” (which also featured on the singer’s most recent studio album Such Pretty Forks in the Road) and “Predator”.
Jagged Little Pill opened on Broadway in 2019 to strong critic reviews, with many praising the performances, staging, choreography and score. “You Oughta Know” stopped the show at most performances, garnering rapturous applause and standing ovations from the audience – the performance by Lauren Patten earned a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress. However, some critics did take issue with the shoehorning of so many different social issues into the show. Rolling Stone described the musical as ‘overly woke’ and Vox called the musical ‘overstuffed’ – it even inspired a New York Times think piece entitled “Has Alanis Morissette Made the Most Woke Musical Since ‘Hair’?”.
UK audiences will soon be able to make up their own minds as Jagged Little Pill is set to make its West End premiere in November 2022. It has been announced that most of the Broadway creative team, including director Diane Paulus, will be working on the show’s West End run. It begs the question – is the London theatre scene ready to be ‘woke’ up or is this musical simply “Uninvited”?