It’s been almost three decades since her seminal album Jagged Little Pill and Alanis Morissette still finds the words she jotted down as a teenager deeply relatable.
Now 49 years old, the Ottawa native considers herself “fortunate” that she can perform “You Oughta Know,” “Ironic” and most of the album’s other songs with a conviction similar to that of her youth.
“They’re basically value systems,” she explained in a recent phone interview from her northern California home.
“And fortunately these values, on my part, have been unwavering.”
Morissette has spent ample time reflecting on Jagged Little Pill in recent years, discussing and dissecting how “Hand in My Pocket,” “Right Through You” and “You Learn” became anthems for a generation of independent young women.
Anniversaries passed, an HBO documentary on the legacy of Jagged Little Pill was made and Morissette gave her blessing to a Broadway show built on her songs.
WATCH | The official music video for Alanis Morissette’s song ‘Hand in My Pocket’:
A touring production of Jagged Little Pill: The Musical plays Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre through Nov. 26, rounding out a run of Canadian stops earlier this year.
The musical weaves the Canadian singer-songwriter’s music and lyrics through the story of the Healys, a seemingly perfect American suburban family who are quietly suffocating in their own trauma.
Mary Jane, a mother of two, is secretly addicted to painkillers as she manages the fallout of a car crash, while the fire in her marriage has all but been snuffed out.
Her husband, Steve, is a workaholic whose pleasure relies on pornography.
Meanwhile, their adopted daughter Frankie is exploring her bisexuality and activist streak while figuring out her complicated identity as an adopted Black girl in a white family. Her brother Nick shoulders the weight of the “perfect” son who’s just been admitted to Harvard but also harbours his own demons.
Their lives come crashing down when the rape of a local high school girl forces the Healy family to contend with their value systems and the personal problems they’ve ignored.
Jagged Little Pill shaves the sharp edges of Morissette’s alternative-pop compositions for the musical stage, adjusts some of the lyrics to fit characters and uses each song as fuel for the narrative. Beyond the entirety of Morissette’s 1995 album, other popular tracks in her catalogue have their moment, including “Uninvited,” “Thank U” and “So Pure.”
WATCH | The official music video for Alanis Morissette’s song ‘Thank U’:
When Morissette was first approached by producers nearly a decade ago with the idea of making a stage musical out of her work, she said she was less concerned with tarnishing the album’s place in music history than some might assume.
“I’m not that worried about legacy,” she assured.
“I feel like people put so much pressure on themselves for what they ‘leave behind.”‘
Morissette had some boundaries. She didn’t want the project to feel like a jukebox musical that dispensed her songs with little meaning.
She told producers that the show’s creators must share her artistic values, in particular, her support of self-expression, connection and activism.
“Unless they could meld together and we all had the same mission, I wasn’t really interested,” she said.
It took more than half a decade of mingling with Pulitzer Prize-winning writers and other potential creative partners to find her answer in Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody and theatre and opera director Diane Paulus, known for modern spins on classic stage productions.
Morissette said Cody dove into the lyrics of her songs and dismantled some of the ideas to construct the characters in the musical.
“[The idea] became something that I not only could get behind but could get behind quite passionately,” the singer added.
For her part in its creation, she shared ideas with Cody and Paulus on how the plotline should take shape.
“I don’t have any direct experience with adoption, however, a lot of the other ‘big issues’ not only have I experienced myself, but I had some insight,” Morissette added.
Jagged Little Pill: The Musical made its debut in 2018 at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass. before opening in New York the following year.
The Broadway show closed in 2021 after multiple Covid-19 outbreaks within the company plagued the production, but the musical lives on through its touring cast. Theatre company Concord Theatrical announced this week it acquired worldwide stage rights to take the show overseas.
Morissette’s role at this point is largely as a figurehead who occasionally does press to promote the latest runs. But she finds the album Jagged Little Pill, remains a considerable emotional outlet.
Only “Not the Doctor,” one of the final songs on the record, gives Morissette “a tiny, baby cringe” when she sings it now. The lyrics are about refusing to compromise in a romantic relationship and were written from the vantage point of a young woman with little experience, she now acknowledges.
“It was a little flippant,” she says.
“I didn’t realize the degree to which you actively support each other in the healing process if you’re in a really connected relationship.”
All of the other songs still resonate emotionally.
“I can move it — physically dance it and relive it,” she says.
“If I’m on stage, upset, angry, scared, lonely — all of those things — it’s almost like an invitation for people to feel those feelings together with me.”