Alanis Morissette released her angsty, decade-defining album Jagged Little Pill in 1995. Now, with the help of Diablo Cody, Diane Paulus, and an ensemble of triple-threats, Morissette has reimagined the iconic record for Broadway. A jukebox musical about the trials and tribulations of an average American family living in 2019, the show begins with a focus on Mary Jane, a suburban mother of two teenagers, and quickly expands to include the rest of the small town Connecticut community, including her daughter Frankie’s quasi-girlfriend, Jo, played by Lauren Patten.
For Patten, the role is refreshingly relatable. “I am queer and I play a lot of queer characters,” she said. “And I feel like we developed it in a way that is very true to how young queer people navigate their life right now. It’s not black and white, it’s not as clear cut. I think that’s probably what’s most exciting to me about Jo’s story. We don’t see a lot of queer stories in which everything isn’t figured out.”
This isn’t Patten’s first time on Broadway—she understudied for Emily Skeggs as Middle Allison in Fun Home—but Jo is the first character she will originate on the stage. The 27-year-old actress has been with the project since the very first reading in May 2017. “I just fell in love with it from the beginning,” she said. “I fell in love with Jo, I fell in love with working with Diablo. We clicked right away. I just knew I wanted to do the show forever.”
At the time of the first reading, the entire script hadn’t been written yet, but Patten knew what she was getting herself into. “I don’t think Diablo is capable of writing something that doesn’t have her witty spirit in it,” the actress said. “It does feel like Jo, as a character—because she’s not in the family, she’s not in that center core of people who we follow as they break apart and heal together—gets to be this outside commentator in some ways. The character is a very strong voice for Diablo.”
Patten, who grew up in suburban Chicago, started acting as a kid in community theater productions. “I always sang and loved singing, but my first love was really plays,” she said. “I lived and breathed theater. I wanted to tell stories on stage. That’s all I wanted to do.”
Pursuing that ambition, she bounced between Chicago and Los Angeles as a teen and did a quick stint in New York. “I went to NYU for a year and then I couldn’t afford it so I left. I would’ve been class of 2014 there,” she said. “It was a great first year and I fell in love with New York. It was a small devastation that I couldn’t stay, but I ended up going back to LA because I had a relationship with the Rubicon Theater Company and my mentors were like, Why don’t you come out here and work for us? I ended up staying in LA for a few years and continued to get my degree and worked.”
She found herself back in New York in 2015. “I booked Fun Home, so I came to be in that and haven’t left since,” she said. “I’ve been blessed working on a lot of great shows including Jagged, but I kind of do say all the time that nothing will ever be Fun Home. It is such a beautiful show, and it was a real family backstage.”
Jagged Little Pill is an issues-based musical narrative, tackling everything from the opioid crisis to sexual assault. “From Diablo’s first draft, she was always really interested in showing the intersectionality between all these things we’re dealing with as a country,” Patten said. Though the musical is not about Morissette’s life, the depth and richness of her music and lyrics prevent it from coming across as a simple after school special for the stage. “This is people’s lives today. These aren’t isolated epidemics, so it was always a very full musical,” Patten said.
In the second act of Jagged Little Pill, Patten has the honor of performing “You Oughta Know,” Morissette’s visceral breakup exorcism that resonates with people around the globe to this day. Tackling that on stage, for a brand new musical, is no easy feat, but Patten does the song justice. “I cannot believe Alanis wrote ‘You Oughta Know’ in about 20 minutes. It’s insane to me. She’s just that good. It just poured out of her. That’s why people relate to it so much, because it’s so honest. There was no, ‘How do we make it catchy?’ It was just her pure truth and that’s why everybody goes nuts over it,” Patten said. The show will open officially on Broadway on December 5, but since previews began in Cambridge, she has been receiving a standing ovation during her performance, mid-show.
“Certainly no one expected it, by any means,” Patten said. “And we still don’t expect it because it’s kind of a ridiculous thing to expect! It is a very beautiful moment whenever it does happen, because it is just clear, the communion with the audience. And that they feel that moved.”
Patten gives “about 110% of the energy that I have in my body” to that show-stopping number, and those standing ovations have actually turned out to be good mini-breaks before she has to jump right back into the performance. “It’s all of that energy swirling in the theater, so it doesn’t feel like this distracting thing, it actually feels like kind of just the energy that we’ve created on stage coming out into that part of the theater, too. But it is also very much just a nice chance to breathe before I have to say lines again.”