It’s official: You Oughta Know, a musical based on Ottawa-born musician Alanis Morissette’s classic album Jagged Little Pill, is set to debut this May at Harvard University’s American Repertory Theater. The project, which has been tentatively in the works since 2013, has now begun in earnest, in large part due to the confirmed involvement of a decorated roster of industry veterans, with Oscar-winning Juno scribe Diablo Cody penning the story, Tony- and Pulitzer-winning composer Tom Kitt (Next to Normal, American Idiot) handling arrangement and orchestration duties, and Tony-winner Diane Paulus (Hair, Pippin) set to direct. Of course, Morissette has been closely involved in the development of You Oughta Know from the outset, describing the show in a release as a “musical theatre dream come true.”
Originally released in June 1995 by a then 21-year-old Morissette, Jagged Little Pill achieved international success as a raw, unflinching manifesto of feminist angst and confessional rage, becoming one of the best-selling albums of all time (it remains the third-highest-selling album by a female artist today). With nineties-era nostalgia currently enjoying its first cultural moment (see: the recent revivals of Baywatch, Twin Peaks, Full House, and The X-Files), the time seems ripe to revisit one of the decade’s biggest and most influential records. At the same time, the musical’s proposed story line—set to focus on a multi-generational family and themes of gender identity and race—suggests the Alanis brain trust is seeking to go beyond quick name-recognition-appeal and use the more timeless elements of Morissette’s work to tap into vital, living elements of contemporary zeitgeist. Indeed, Morissette has stated she “look[s] forward to taking the heart of Jagged Little Pill and expanding its story, fleshing it out into ever deeper layers of emotionality, specificity, humanity, power, physicality, spirit, and fabulism.” (Work from Morissette’s other albums will also make it into the production).
For a generation of fans who grew up blasting Jagged Little Pill in their Subaru Imprezas and singing “You Oughta Know” at every bachelorette karaoke night since, the album holds a powerful emotional connection.
That’s no small order: for a generation of fans who grew up blasting Jagged Little Pill in their Subaru Imprezas and singing “You Oughta Know” at every bachelorette karaoke night since, the album holds a powerful emotional connection to a specific moment, and to “update” it for a modern audience without treading upon sanctity (or appearing to be a cash grab) is an especially delicate task. Jukebox musicals are notoriously hit-and-miss, and similar pop-star projects such as Lennon and the Spice Girls’ Viva Forever! were both critically panned. Yet Morissette’s central involvement should reassure die-hard fans of the project’s authenticity, while the themes of the album remain a powerful prism through which to interrogate modern world in much the same way the album did for listeners 22 years ago. Speaking on the enduring relevance of the album two decades removed from its original context, Diane Paulus stated, “Jagged Little Pill defined a generation, and yet the raw, emotional honesty of Alanis’s songs feels more needed now than ever.”
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