You Oughta Know: Jagged Little Pill Brings All the Feels

“The show’s so dark and so deep, but then, at the end is this number that brings everyone together and shows that no matter what we go through, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. There’s always hope.” 

So said Dillon Klena, who plays “Nick” in the touring production of Jagged Little Pill, which is headed to the Belk Theater in Charlotte Nov. 29 through Dec. 4. Tickets are on sale now starting at $25. 

When Jagged Little Pill, the third album by a then-21-year-old Canadian artist, Alanis Morissette, was released in 1995, the impact was seismic. 

It rocked the music world, won five Grammy Awards and eventually sold more than 33 million copies worldwide. It’s still one of the most successful albums of all time.

Twenty-four years later, the musical version of Jagged Little Pill had a similar effect when it opened on Broadway. The show, as it happens, is as angst-y as the album.

ABOVE: Dillon Klena and company of the North American Tour of JAGGED LITTLE PILL | CREDIT: Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

FROM GRAMMYS TO TONYS 

Actually, its effects were felt before it hit Broadway in 2019. During its initial run at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2018, the audience would break into applause after You Oughta Know night after night, forcing the actors to stop the action and acknowledge the audience’s fandom. The mid-show ovations continued on Broadway.

The show – which combines tracks of the original album with other Morissette songs, direction from Tony Award winner Diane Paulus (Waitress) and a script by Academy Award winner Diablo Cody (Juno) – was nominated for 15 Tony Awards in 2021.

Jagged Little Pill looks at the everyday lives of an upper-middle-class modern American family as parents and teens confront a litany of issues. Marital woes, addictions (opioids in one case, porn in another), social media pressures, sexual assault, LGBTQ issues, global warming and more – it’s all there. It can be a lot to take in at once. Then again, living in times such as these can feel like a lot.

ABOVE: Jade McLeod and the North American Touring Company of JAGGED LITTLE PILL. | CREDIT: Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

A SHOW YOU FEEL

Jagged Little Pill taps Morissette’s songs to tell the story of the fictional Healy family and takes audiences through the gamut of emotions as the Healys struggle with work, school, love and life. There’s joy, love, heartache, PTSD, strength, wisdom, catharsis.

To get insight into the production, we caught up with Klena, who plays the role of Nick Healy. We spoke to him just days after his 24th birthday as Jagged Little Pill was stopping in Seattle. (And, yes, he was planning to stop by the famous Pike Place Fish Market to catch a fish in the air.) 

While calling it “a rollercoaster of a show,” Klena was hesitant to spoil much about its plot and themes. But he was happy to talk about his experience and how the show makes him – and he hopes the audience, too – feel. 

As Klena plays Nick in the touring company, he knows he has big shoes to fill  … shoes once worn by his older brother, Derek, who played Nick in the Broadway production. (More about that in our Q&A below.) 

How do you hope audience members feel when they leave the theater after seeing Jagged Little Pill?

There are so many deep subjects, I will say that. Our billboard says, “Some shows you see. This one, you feel.” I feel like that is the mantra of this show

I hope that when audiences see the show, they know Alanis’s music. I hope they come in familiar with her music, and understanding of the [original] Jagged Little Pill album. 

It’s a very direct and very specific show. There may be some triggers for people emotionally … but honestly, just come in with an open mind. Right now, I feel like we need theater more than ever and so, if you come in just let us take you on this adventure and take you through this rollercoaster of a show, you’ll be fine. I don’t really know how to prepare anyone.

ABOVE: Dillion Klena

Does it feel like, at this point, you’re family with the other cast members?

Oh, yeah. The show is so deep and it goes through so many different topics – to have that strong bond with the cast offstage, too, really helps. 

We all have each other’s backs and yeah, it is a family. Heidi Blickenstaff, who plays my mom, is, honestly, our mother on and off the stage and totally holds everything together. 

Have you worked with any of your cast members before?

The actress who’s playing Bella – Allison Sheppard. I’ve known her for a very long time. Right before this [show], we did Newsies together in May. Then we immediately jumped into this [our first traveling show]. It was kind of a surreal experience. We’ve known each other since I was around 6 years old. So it’s kind of crazy how, finally, we’re going into this world of the national tour scene together and growing with each other. 

ABOVE: Allison Sheppard and the North American Touring Company of JAGGED LITTLE PILL. | CREDIT: Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

How long have you been performing?

Since I was 3 years old. [Klena can’t remember if the show was Grease or Big River, but he knows his first speaking role was as the Munchkin mayor in The Wizard of Oz.]

I have two older siblings. My brother Derek actually originated the role of Nick Healy on Broadway. He started performing when my mom was pregnant with me. I think my mom even did a show when she was pregnant with me. I’m not sure if this is true, but I remember her telling me a story about how she felt me kick while she was on stage. 

What’s been the biggest challenge with Jagged Little Pill  — something new you’re learning in the role of Nick Healy?

I’m learning that realism takes different forms. I’ve been learning how to conceal – to not feel on stage. Because that’s the biggest thing for my character. He doesn’t show his emotions very much. I like to call him a “feeling stuffer” or a “stocking stuffer” – he constantly puts things into his stocking. 

My character goes through something called “bystander syndrome.” It’s basically when you see something, but you don’t really process it until three to four weeks later. So you’re constantly thinking about it, but you’re also constantly in denial. Then all of a sudden it just hits you and you’re like, “Oh, that’s right. That’s what that is.” 

ABOVE: (L to R) Heidi Blickenstaff, Allison Sheppard and Jena VanElslander in the North American Tour of JAGGED LITTLE PILL.  | CREDIT: Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

You had exposure to Jagged Little Pill through your brother’s role, but were you familiar with Alanis Morissette’s music growing up?

My mom would always play the radio in the car. Hand in My Pocket would play a lot and You Oughta Know – all the greats. 

Coming into it and looking at it from a new perspective of an adult, you’re like, “Wow! This girl was 21 years old when she wrote that album.” [I’m awed by] the emotional maturity she had at that time. 

It’s been great to delve into the music. We got to meet her a couple of times in L.A. and then in San Francisco and had a session with her where we talked with her about her music. It was really touching to understand how her mind works and see why this music stands the test of time.

What’s the interplay of the music and the book by Diablo Cody like for you as a performer?

I’m still learning every night about certain lyrics. I’ll say [them] and then I’ll get off stage and be like, “Whoa, it just clicked with me what that actually means” … 

But Diablo Cody’s dry humor and really witty script … the [script and songs] just mesh so well with the genre of music and the type of show this is. The script brings the voice out of the music. 

Finally, you are in a unique situation playing a role you watched your brother originate on Broadway. Is there any sibling rivalry going on?

No. We have performed together since we were younger. It’s me, my brother and my sister. We were known as the ”Klena Kids” growing up in West Covina, California. We’ve always performed with each other, and we’re a very close family. There’s never really been any rivalry. 

I actually wear my brother’s shoes from the show. And, that was my choice. While we were doing costume fittings and stuff … I tried on everything that he wore. I tried on all the shoes, and there are these specific VAYA sneakers that my character wears, and so they tried a specific pair of VAYA sneakers on me and I’m like, “These kind of fit perfectly. Can I just wear them?” They said, “Your brother wore those.” 

That’s so cool. Who gets to say that? We’re both wearing the same shoes.

ABOVE: The company of the North American Tour of JAGGED LITTLE PILL. | CREDIT: Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

“YOU LEARN”… HOW TO GO TO JAGGED LITTLE PILL

Jagged Little Pill is playing Nov. 29 to Dec. 4 at The Belk Theater. Tickets start at $25 and are available online now.. The show’s performance schedule:

  • Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 – 7:30 p.m.
  • Dec. 2 – 8 p.m. 
  • Dec. 3  – 2 and 8 p.m.
  • Dec. 4  – 1:30 and 7:00 p.m.

This story was sponsored by Blumenthal Performing Arts. A portion of proceeds from this post will fund a HUG Micro-Grant for a local creative project or initiative.