FEATURE: Far from Ironic: Jagged Little Pill: The Musical: Could Other Albums Follow Alanis Morissette’s Classic to the Stage?




Far from Ironic



 Jagged Little Pill: The Musical: Could Other Albums Follow Alanis Morissette’s Classic to the Stage?


I am remaining in ‘nostalgia territory’...              


 IN THIS PHOTO: Alanis Morissette (date unknown)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

for a little bit because, after my look at Skunk Anansie turning twenty-five (the band formed in 1994), I am switching to an album that is getting celebration – albeit it, in a different way to the quarter-century-old London band. I am often looking at periods in music that can be adapted for the stage or find their way onto the screen. Consider the slightly detached nature of streaming and how we digest music. I often associate the modern consumer with earphones and always in a hurry. I see so many people on the Tube lost in music but I wonder whether they can truly focus and block out the periphery chaos and cram that is city life. I would like to think people still enjoy music in a very concentrated and focused way but so many of us listening on the move and listen to snatches of songs – it is hard to find time to really study music and take some proper time to listen. Not only are a lot of modern artists being discovered in a very fractured and bitty way but older acts are being overlooked by so many people – not able to cram it all in and experience records like we used to. Netflix offers this exciting and broad-minded platform for shows and I do often wonder whether producers are ignoring all the great stories waiting to be told. From the birth of Hip-Hop to bands embarking on great and interesting times – from Fleetwood Mac during Rumours or Madonna during the Erotica period – through to entire movements (maybe a look at Grunge from the perspective of a group of friends and their connection?).


 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Not only is the screen capable of hosting these illuminating, educational and inspiring stories from music but the stage is there too. We have musicals but most of these are quite old and they are much more ‘conventional’. I have raised this before but why does theatre here and in the U.S. have to be dedicated to the ‘classic’ musicals? There are modern musicals such as Hamilton and The Book or Mormon - but how often does a producer or company focus on popular music and put that on the stage?! Ben Elton put Queen’s music to the stage via We Will Rock You and you get the odd example here and there. I think there is so much potential to be found regarding music. It is always risky getting carried away regarding periods, acts and types of music. Imagine launching a Hip-Hop based play in the West End. Would that be more popular in America and would it be reserved to a rather limited audience?! One has to think about this before embarking on something ambitious and expensive. This all brings me, rather ineloquently, to news that Alanis Morissette’s iconic album, Jagged Little Pill, is headed to Broadway! My ears pricked when I heard the news and I had two reactions: surprise it had not been done sooner and (I felt) what an original choice it was. One might raise some eyebrows regarding this play/musical…

You might feel like there is very little story one can get from an album. Think about the best albums and how we experience them. The songs burst to life and we all have our own images of what each track is about. Great albums can create this narrative and story that engages the listener and almost seems filmic. I think there are countless albums that could be adapted for screen or stage and not only lead to a wonderful piece but inspire new generations. I feel there are a lot of albums out there waiting to be discovered, going unnoticed and unchecked in the digital world. If they were brought to life on screen and stage – where a lot of people tend to focus on – then that would be a way forward...albeit it quite an excessive one in some ways! Pitchfork report on the Jagged Little Pill project that is coming to the American masses in the autumn:

Jagged Little Pill—the rock musical based around Alanis Morissette’s 1995 album by the same name—is slated to premiere on Broadway this upcoming fall, The New York Times reports. The theater, cast, and date of the show’s opening have not yet been announced. Last year, the musical debuted with a sold-out, 10-week run at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Jagged Little Pill features songs from the 1995 LP, as well as other tracks from Morissette’s discography. The musical is directed by Tony winner Diane Paulus and was written by Diablo Cody. The show’s producers said that Jagged Little Pill is being revised from its 2018 production”.

I was not aware the musical was already open and had enjoyed a successful run in the U.S. It is exciting more people will get to see the musical and I hope it transfers to London’s West End this year. The album, for those unaware, arrived in 1995 and it was the third studio album from the Canadian songwriter. The experimental nature of the album fit into a music scene that, by 1995, was full of variation and differing scenes. We had Britpop here whilst America was transition from Grunge to the next phase of Rock. Morissette seemed to link the Post-Grunge sound with the Alternative-Rock tones that would become more prominent in the years that followed. The lyrics resonated with many because, essentially, it is about broken relationships and themes of aggression. This is a more common staple now but I do not think many songwriters have addressed the subjects with such personality and original insight. Maybe it is Morissette’s distinct vocals or the way she expresses her anger – it certainly captured the imagination and announced her as a major talent. Jagged Little Pill was a departure from Morissette and were less reliant on Dance-Pop blends. Morissette moved from a more sugar-sweet and bubble-gum sound to something much more impactful and tough. The record would go to top the charts in thirteen countries and sell millions. It is one of the best-selling albums of all-time and it was nominated for nine Grammys! It would win five of them and transformed this promising artist into a worldwide sensation.

There are standouts a-plenty on the 1995 gem. You Oughta Know, Hand in My Pocket and Ironic are, perhaps, the most popular and best-known but tracks such as All I Really Want are huge! That song looks at intellectual intercourse – as Morissette expressed – and a connection with an angry, frightened soul. Looking at female expression and anger together with tales of record bosses who prey on their female talent – this was no ordinary, commercial album. The fact that Jagged Little Pill was brought out on the Maverick (and Reprise) label makes me wonder whether another one of their talents, Madonna, played a role. This was a year after Bedtime Stories and a few after Erotica. Here was a female artist tearing up the rulebooks and unafraid to explore lesser-heard themes and ideas. That sort of bold and maverick approach wowed the public and drew some fond acclaim. There are plenty of positive messages and hopeful tales on Jagged Little Pill – the fact it is so varied and has endless delight means, even now, people are finding new sides to the record. It is not a shock a playwright would find much to admire and adapt. In many ways, the anger, sense of fear and rebellion that is featured on the album is a perfect modern tale. I have not seen the musical but seeing these well-known songs in a new light will be fascinating. Even though Jagged Little Pill is heading the direction of Broadway, not all critics loved the album when it was released (idiots). Some were surprised the insular songs resonated with millions but others felt the extremely personal nature of the songs was a little intense and detached.

If some critics were a little cold and unsure back in 1995, the years following the album’s release have been very kind. Jagged Little Pill is often featured in polls collating the best women in Rock and the finest albums of the 1990s. The awards streamed in and Morissette had a hard time matching the same success and sales on the follow-up, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. In fact, that album got some stunning reviews and sales but the fact it followed Jagged Little Pill – a revelation and unique explosion – means many favour the 1995 record. I do wonder if theatre-makers will look at the follow-up because Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie has terrific songs like Thank U, That I Would Be Good and Unsent – maybe the sequel to the original tale? I am interested to see whether the Jagged Little Pill musical will score big on Broadway and, after that, there will be talk of another project regarding Morissette. Many would not think that album would be a natural stage musical but think about the stories told in the songs and how they can not only form a narrative but be matched with some very vivid and memorable images. It may have taken twenty-four years but one of the finest albums from any female artist is getting its turn on one of the world’s biggest theatre circuits. I think there will be huge demand for it to come to London and excite audiences here.

There have been attempts to translate bands/genres into plays/musicals but I think the fact Jagged Little Pill is getting spotlight will inspire others to look at music’s past and what could happen. I talked about Hip-Hop earlier and I wonder whether one of the forefather records, Paid in Full by Eric B. & Rakim, could make a good musical? There is that story of discovery and innovation together with these unique, extraordinary and timeless songs. Classic Pop records from The Beatles could make for a great music and, if we stay in the 1990s, one is spoiled for choice. Might it be sacred turning Nirvana’s Nevermind or Oasis’ Definitely Maybe into musicals? I feel both would be ripe for investigation but, truly, this Jagged Little Pill could be the medicine needed to...I’ll drop that line of thought. F*ck it...


IN THIS IMAGE: How long before Oasis’ 1994 debut is turned into a musical for the West End?!/IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify

The fact this unusual but hugely-popular album is getting Broadway focus means there is an appetite for albums-as-musicals. Maybe we should not get carried away and start scouring the shelves to see which record comes next...which one would come next?! I do feel there is this room for consideration and exploration. I have mentioned Madonna and, as an artist, her rich back catalogue would fare brilliantly on the stage – a Like a Prayer or Ray of Light musical, perchance?! I am excited to see what doors the Alanis Morissette musical opens. One must think a Michael Jackson or Fleetwood Mac musical would be a possibility and, as you let your mind wander, there are countless albums that leap to mind!

As I say; I hope the musical transfers to the U.K. because I have fond memories of Jagged Little Pill. Back in 1995, I was big into British leaders like Oasis and Blur; embroiled in their infamous Britpop war and excited by all the different bands competing around them. I mentioned it when looking at Skunk Anansie this morning but, when they arrived with their debut in 1995, there was nothing like it in British music. Likewise, Alanis Morissette was breaking ground and adding something truly special to the musical water. Maybe the messages were not written for a person like me – a teenage male – but I could feel the conviction and was listening to these very frank and honest lyrics. It was a pivotal moment for me and, because of Jagged Little Pill, I incorporated more Alternative-Rock into my collection; went looking for artists more concerned with distinction and being original as opposed the mass who were chasing chart positions and the mainstream. It is, as Variety explained in their review of the Jagged Little Pill musical, hard to adapt a huge album into something disciplined enough to be a success on the stage:

It’s a risky business, making a musical not from a story demanding to be told but from a set of songs merely available to be used. “Jagged Little Pill,” American Repertory Theater’s world premiere based on the 1995 Grammy-winning alt-rock smash, triumphantly avoids the pitfalls. Always engaging, often moving and even rousing, the show boasts dramatic interest and integrity on its own theatrical terms, courtesy of director Diane Paulus (“Waitress,” “Pippin”), first-time librettist Diablo Cody (“Tully,” “Juno”) and that peerless, soulful balladeer of the modern Western condition, Alanis Morissette...


The smash-hit album, written in collaboration with Glen Ballard (also credited here), garnered praise for its suavely blended musical influences and deeply-held personal feelings. It also attracted brickbats from critics objecting to excessive insularity and unseemly anger, but such charges seem baseless now. Heard at a 20+ year remove, the songs of “Jagged Little Pill” impress as sage rather than wantonly ferocious, and prescient in their forthright demands for women’s dignity and emotional agency, now echoed in our Time’s Up era. As a voice of the mainstream, not just misunderstood adolescents alone in bedrooms, the album becomes a fertile source for a broad-based narrative.

The review went on to congratulated the ensemble and the chemistry; the fact that the musical is not nostalgic and an excuse to remember this iconic album – it is a lot more intriguing than that:

Yet “Jagged Little Pill” is no cynical exercise. Its characters may touch on a wide spectrum of contemporary life, but so do the original album’s songs; it would betray the source material if it didn’t attempt to encompass what the late Tom Wolfe approvingly called “the lurid carnival of American life at this moment, in the here and now.” Cody’s scenario thoughtfully wraps the social concerns around the characters, plotting and connecting the dots with assurance. And set designer Riccardo Hernandez’s swirling panels act as restless screens for projection designer Finn Ross’s photos and videos, serving as both family album and national panorama...


But everyone serves, and is well served by, music rendered eminently stage-ready. Paulus engineers an ingenious collaboration starting with her dozen-member ensemble, employed like Greek choruses to comment on and participate in the principals’ conflicts. Clad mostly in black, they glide in for the second chorus of an individual’s song, like a troupe of Maenads acting out the singer’s pain through Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s dazzling choreography, all lunges and reaches and sharp turns. With master orchestrator Tom Kitt (“SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Next to Normal”) expanding the sound to Broadway size for the onstage band, the result is intimate songs transforming before our eyes into explosions which — in the case of “You Oughta Know,” the lacerating indictment of sexual betrayal assigned here to the rejected Jo — inspired a spontaneous standing ovation on opening night for Patten and the troupe”.

It looks like critics’ pens will be frantic when the musical hits Broadway later this year and I am so pleased there is this impressive and popular musical bringing new light and depth to a brilliant album! I know there are talented artists and writers who will see the success of the Jagged Little Pill musical and wonder where they can go and which albums are primed for exposure! There are gambles regarding the story and ensuring the album is interesting enough to warrant theatrical prominence but, when it is done right, it leads to this masterful work and ensures the original album...


IN THIS PHOTO: Alanis Morissette (circa 2018)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

FINDS a whole new audience!