Aronoff Musical 'Jagged Little Pill' is Here to Remind Patrons of Alanis Morissette’s Staying Power

Morissette's album Jagged Little Pill is the score for a Broadway musical about a modern family struggling to preserve its reputation while dealing with addiction and trauma.

Mar 8, 2023 at 7:11 am
click to enlarge Lauren Chanel and Rishi Golani in the North American Tour of Jagged Little Pill - Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
Lauren Chanel and Rishi Golani in the North American Tour of Jagged Little Pill

This story is featured in the March 8 print issue of CityBeat.

Alanis Morissette’s 1995 alt-rock album, Jagged Little Pill, was her first worldwide release. A mix of post-grunge and pop rock, the record topped the charts in 13 countries and won the 1995 Album of the Year Grammy for Morissette, who was just 21 years old at the time. She gave its songs an acoustic re-recording released in 2005, and a pair of re-releases of the original happened in 2015 and 2020. 

Jagged Little Pill has been popular for more than 25 years. Recently its songs became the score for a Broadway musical about a modern family struggling to preserve its reputation while dealing with addiction and trauma. After opening in late 2019 it was interrupted by the worldwide pandemic, but it returned in the fall of 2021, having received an astonishing 15 Tony Award nominations in 2020, including Best Musical. It’s now touring and will have a one-week stop at downtown Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center during the last week of March.

Jagged Little Pill’s story revolves around rebellious Frankie, an adopted, bisexual Black teen, and her white, suburban family — parents, Mary Jane, who goes by “MJ,” and Steve, who hide their addictions, and a son Nick, who’s pressured to be perfect to keep up the family’s reputation. Frankie resents her mother’s lack of understanding. She does some writing for a class at school that’s criticized by her classmates. But a new student, Phoenix, encourages her to finish, and they strike up a romantic relationship. 

Rishi Golani, 20, is playing Phoenix for the touring production that was launched last fall. After two years of studying musical theater at New York City’s Pace University, the Los Angeles native was recently accepted as a transfer into the renowned musical theater program at University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). He planned to move to Cincinnati last fall but was surprised to be cast in Jagged Little Pill’s touring cast, so he’s deferred his enrollment until 2024; he plans to be a CCM grad in 2026. CityBeat interviewed him recently while he was performing in Detroit. He’s not quite sure how he ended up being called for an audition while he was packing for his move to Cincinnati.

A casting director invited Golani to send an audition tape. “It was like me and 500 guys at callbacks. After a few days, I got the part. I was kind of shocked by how fast it was.” Rehearsals started in August 2022, and the tour launched a month later. Recently he summoned the nerve to ask the casting director how he found the young actor. “I thought you submitted to us,” he was told. But he’d been approached, so Golani asked for more. The casting director confessed they were having a hard time finding an actor who could sing the high part. “Maybe we just randomly stumbled on your profile.” Regardless, Golani relishes landing a role in a touring show so early in his career.

“The show really covers the importance of what it means to be a family,” Golani says, “and what they mean to each other and care about each other. We don’t always know what’s affecting someone — a lot of times people are afraid to say what they’re going through because they want to be strong. They think others will not care or listen. This is a story about empathy and acceptance.”

Morissette’s album came out before Golani was born, but he is impressed with the music. “It’s all about freedom of expression and rebellion, stating who you are in the world. It’s about being a human being.” He wasn’t familiar with the album before he was hired, but now he’s listened to it a lot. “The music really holds up. People from my generation can come and get the perspective from another generation. The music marries our generation with their generation.”

His character, Phoenix, is a new kid at school. “He keeps his head down,” Golani says. “Whenever the director and I would talk about him, he would say Phoenix is one of those kids who had to grow up faster than the kids around him. He couldn’t afford to be a child. He had to play the role of father and brother and son in his family. That’s the story of a lot of kids who have to take on these roles.”

Golani appreciates Phoenix’s intelligence and sensitivity. He is in the scene after Frankie is criticized by other students for something she wrote. “Phoenix hears it and loves it. He’s not infatuated with the girl but with how her writing affects him. He really values things that most people take for granted.” 

The scene uses the song, “Ironic.” Golani points out that critics said Morissette was misusing the word. That judgment is attributed to Frankie’s classmates in the show. “Her writing is actually quite powerful, and the song itself is a beautiful piece of music, a great piece of storytelling.” The show has several songs that are dark and heavy, so he appreciates that this one is fun. “It’s a groove, a jam, a good time. Audiences like it a lot. It’s upbeat, a song that celebrates writing.”

Golani says he appreciates the show’s message that Rishi embraces. “You have to slow down and appreciate what you have and make things bigger than they are. When Phoenix talks about his family’s problems, he understands that that’s life. He’d rather appreciate the moments he has and move forward. Even though he doesn’t declare it in the show, people can pick up on the fact that Phoenix is unwavering. He’s willing to walk forward. It’s a really good message.

“The show and this music are a great bridge for people to connect,” Golani says. “I hope people who are on the fence will come to see it. There’s nothing more important than trying new things.” Wise words from a 20-year-old.

The touring production of Jagged Little Pill will be presented by Broadway in Cincinnati at the Aronoff Center for the Arts from March 28-April 2.

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