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Alanis Morissette's 'Jagged Little Pill' Is Now A Musical


"Jagged Little Pill" is now a musical. That's the album by Alanis Morissette which sold millions of copies after its release in 1995. The artist expressed raw anger in songs like "You Oughta Know." Andrea Shea of our member station WBUR reports on how the pain of these songs translates to the stage of the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass.

ANDREA SHEA, BYLINE: Looking back, Alanis Morissette remembers being surprised by how many people connected with songs she wrote when she was 19 years old.

ALANIS MORISSETTE: And on one hand, it was heartening because I immediately felt less alone in my challenges. On the other hand, it was horrifying 'cause I thought, oh, my gosh, there's a lot of people who are relating to this, ergo there must be a lot of people in pain.


MORISSETTE: (Singing) I want you to know that I'm happy for you.

SHEA: Fast-forward to 2015 before the Me Too and Time's Up movements took off. Diane Paulus, artistic director of the American Repertory Theater, got a call from a producer asking her to find a copy of "Jagged Little Pill" and give it another listen.

DIANE PAULUS: I think a lot of people associate "Jagged Little Pill" with this watershed moment of female rage.

SHEA: The chart-topping, sexually explicit song "You Oughta Know" wails with anger and pain.


MORISSETTE: (Singing) And I'm here to remind you of the mess you left when you went away.

PAULUS: But when you really get inside the lyrics, it's much deeper than that. Yes, there's rage, but there's also a cry and a plea to feel.


MORISSETTE: (Singing) You, you, you oughta (ph) know.

DIABLO CODY: It is interesting to take an album that feels this private and to turn it into this communal experience.

SHEA: Oscar-winning screen and TV writer Diablo Cody says it was actually easy to transform the album into a piece of theater because there are so many different emotions, stories and characters in Morissette's songs.

CODY: They speak to being marginalized. They stick to addiction and recovery, and ruptures within relationships.

SHEA: Morissette, Cody and Paulus mapped out themes, characters and relationship dynamics on a whiteboard in the musician's Malibu home. Cody says their central character, a mother, emerged from the song "Mary Jane."


MORISSETTE: (Singing) What's the matter, Mary Jane? Had a hard day.

CODY: I listened to it and I went, this is a person. And she's consumed with perfection, and I know who she is and I can write this.

MORISSETTE: (Singing) Lost your place in line again. What a pity. Never seem to want to dance anymore.

SHEA: Only, in the stage version, the song is sung by Mary Jane's husband.

SEAN ALLAN KRILL: (As Steve Healy, singing) And it's a long way down on this rollercoaster.

SHEA: While this could be off-putting for some of the album's die-hard fans, Morissette thinks it's great.

MORISSETTE: It's like the masculine being empathic toward the feminine. Are you kidding me? Even just talking about it right now, I'm getting teared up.

SHEA: Morissette's songs fuel a complicated web of a plot. It revolves around a well-to-do New England family struggling to maintain a facade of success and happiness in the face of marital discord, sexual and gender identity issues, and sexual assault. The musical opens with Mary Jane reading the family's annual Christmas letter to the song "See Right Through You."


ELIZABETH STANLEY: (As Mary Jane Healy) It's been an interesting year. I recovered from my little fender bender in February. My car may have been totaled, but you can't total Mary Jane Healy. After a couple of surgeries, my body is stronger than ever.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) I see right through you.

SHEA: A 13-member chorus out of a Greek tragedy alludes to the truth. Again, writer Diablo Cody.

CODY: The mother in this family is secretly struggling with opiate addiction, which is something that I personally have dealt with in my life, not as an addict but with a family member, and it felt like the right thing to write about at this time.

SHEA: For her part, the force behind the original "Jagged Little Pill" is encouraged that people are talking more about these issues today.

MORISSETTE: It feels like there's an openness to how to navigate this whole human story. You know, there's more of a movement toward wholeness.

SHEA: And, Alanis Morissette hopes, towards healing. For NPR News, I'm Andrea Shea in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Shea