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Alanis Morissette talks ‘Jagged Little Pill’ album and possible Tony Awards sweep: ‘I still pinch myself!’

By George Varga Tribune News Service

Alanis Morissette has at least 15 very sound reasons for taking Sunday off to fly to New York from the West Coast leg of her continuing 25th anniversary “Jagged Little Pill” concert tour, which celebrates her 33 million-selling 1995 breakthrough album.

“Jagged Little Pill,” the hit Broadway musical based on her album, has a field-leading 15 nominations at Sunday’s 74th Annual Tony Awards. The awards, like Morissette’s current 35-city U.S. tour, were both pushed back from last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ll be attending the Tonys,” she told the San Diego Union-Tribune in a recent phone interview. “My whole family is with me on tour. I’m going to do the unthinkable and fly into New York, alone, then fly back to the tour, alone.”

But plans can change, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

In an email, Morrissette explained why she had changed her mind about attending the Tonys, writing: “I would love to be there. It breaks my heart not to be. With COVID protocols and three kids on the road while being on a huge tour, it was just not possible for me to jump out (to go to New York). I will be there in spirit. And I love everyone in this musical so much.”

Easily the biggest musical hit based on a rock album since Green Day’s “American Idiot” in 2009, “Jagged Little Pill” opened to rave reviews on Dec. 5, 2019. It abruptly closed on March 12, 2020 – along with the rest of Broadway and much of the nation – because of the pandemic. It is scheduled to reopen Oct. 21.

A hit with audiences and critics alike, the “Jagged Little Pill” musical was eight years in the making. It is fueled by signature songs from Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” album, including “You Oughta Know,” “Hand in My Pocket,” “Forgiven,” “Perfect,” “Ironic,” “All I Really Want” and “You Learn.” She is showcasing the album on her current tour with Garbage and Cat Power.

“Jagged Little Pill’s” 15 Tony Award nominations include Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical (Diane Paulus), Best Book of a Musical (Diablo Cody), Best Choreography of a Musical (Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui) and Best Orchestrations (Tom Kitt).

Kitt, perhaps not coincidentally, is the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning arranger and composer who helped Green Day transform its “American Idiot” album into a rousing Broadway musical. The “Jagged Little Pill” cast earned an additional six Tony nominations, with another four nods for costume design, set design, lighting design and sound design.

In the history of the Tony Awards, only one musical – “Hamilton” in 2016 – had more nominations, with 16. “Jagged Little Pill’s” 15 nods ties it for second place with “The Producers” and “Billy Elliot, the Musical.”

Morissette laughed with delight when asked if she pinched herself last October when the Tony nominations for “Jagged Little Pill” were announced.

“I still pinch myself!” she said, speaking by phone from a summer tour stop in Florida. “I think: ‘Wow. What is happening?’

“I’m excited for me, certainly, but mostly for everyone in this musical. Because if I thought touring as a concert artist was hard, doing nine shows a week on Broadway – and all the energy that goes into creating the show and rehearsals – is so much more.

“This is like being in the sun, and I am comfortable in that sun. I am so happy that people in this production, who have been craving to be in that sun, have been let in. I have let them know: ‘If you need me to help you process any of this, I am here.’ ”

Being in the sometimes-searing spotlight of fame – and learning how to negotiate its heady ups and soul-sapping downs – has been a nearly lifelong process for Morissette.

A native of Canada, she was born in 1974 to a teacher mother and school principal father. At 10, a few years after she took up piano and began writing her own songs, she became a cast member on the Nickelodeon series “You Can’t Do That on Television.”

At 14, Morissette signed a music publishing deal as a budding songwriter. “Alanis,” her 1991 debut album, was a frothy dance-pop affair. It was released in Canada when she was 16 and won her a Juno Award as the Most Promising Female Vocalist of the Year. Her second album, 1992’s “Now Is the Time,” was similar in style if a bit less lightweight in tone.

But the career-minded Morissette aspired to be more than her country’s answer to Debbie Gibson, which is how she was being marketed in her homeland by her record company, MCA. The classic albums her family played at home when she was growing up inspired her to reach beyond innocuous teen pop.

Much as Ani DiFranco did before her – and Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato and Halsey would do after her – Morissette wanted to emphatically express the hopes, challenges and complicated emotional realities of being a young woman with big dreams.

“As a kid,” Morissette recalled, “I listened to what my parents listened to: Carole King, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Etta James. And if I could sing like Mariah (Carey) and Celine (Dion) and hit their notes, I was somehow a ‘gifted singer.’

“Kurt Cobain and John Lennon, who I call the ‘ur (original) artists’ and who were creating a truly passionate response to their culture, really resonated with me. I sought solace, and they were resources for me when I felt alone – unlike when I gave birth to my (three) children and thought of the millions of women who had done that. …

“For me to write ‘You Oughta Know’ and express my anger in a way that was artistic, not destructive, was really functional for me. When I see someone expressing anger in a nondestructive way, I get really excited for them. I know how powerful anger and love can be.

“Anger gets such a bad rap. We look to people shooting or punching each other, but that’s anger at its most extreme. There’s also a functional level of anger that, without it, I’d be dead, and multidimensionality and egalitarianism would never be possible. Anger, assertiveness, vulnerability and all the things I may have been made fun of for are my superpowers.”

“Jagged Little Pill’s” 12 songs were all co-written by Morissette and Glen Ballard. The album features members of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, along with keyboardist Michael Thompson, a longtime touring member of the Eagles.

The public’s response was swift and enormous, catapulting Morissette to international stardom almost overnight in 1995.

Some music critics opined that “Jagged Little Pill” sounded too sleek and calculated. But the overall response was favorable, and “Jagged Little Pill” is now the 14th biggest-selling album in music history. The only solo album by any woman artist to sell more is fellow Canadian Shania Twain’s “Come Over,” which was released in 1997.

“I had no idea what ‘Jagged Little Pill’ would do. Some people at my record company said they thought it would sell 125,000 copies. I said: ‘Whoa. Take the pressure off me; that’s a really big number!’

“The only thing I did know is that I would continuously perform, even if it’s just on a street corner.”

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