In 2013, Kathryn Gallagher sent an email to her parents with a link to an article reporting that Alanis Morissette was developing a stage musical adaptation of her groundbreaking 1995 album, Jagged Little Pill.
“I wrote, ‘I need to do this,’” Gallagher said one afternoon inside of an Alphabet City karaoke bar called Planet Rose. “And now I’m doing it. So I’m quite literally living my actual dream right now.”
Six years after sending that email, the singer, actress, and dancer is on stage eight times a week in the Broadway adaptation of Jagged Little Pill. Gallagher plays Bella Fox, a character whom she originated, ever since participating in the first lab rehearsal of the show in fall 2017.
At Planet Rose, there is the faint but familiar acrid scent of zebra printed cushions soaked in spilled beer and liquor. It’s the perfect meeting spot for a down-to-earth New Yorker who spends her time between writing her own music “alone in my bedroom while playing the guitar” and on stage, giving emotionally robust vocals of Alanis Morissette’s most iconic songs.
The 26-year-old was born in New York but has spent equal amounts of time living on both coasts, a fact she says she is “truly proud of.” She started playing guitar when she was eight, and moved to Los Angeles at age 11, when she began taking acting classes and writing her own songs. “Honestly, my biggest influences are ‘90s confessional singer-songwriter babes,” Gallagher said with a laugh.
She moved back to New York in 2015, when she made her Broadway debut as the voice of Martha in Spring Awakening. “Once I moved back I was like, This is my home, I’m never leaving. I like bagels too much. Can’t get a good one in L.A. I don’t care what anyone says, you can’t! They don’t understand the chewiness mixed with the firm exterior,” she joked. “I could wax poetic about bagels all day. And I will. That’s what this interview is about right? My expertise on bagels?”
Jagged Little Pill is a jukebox musical, but not in the most traditional sense of the term. Created with Morissette, written by Diablo Cody, and directed by Diane Paulus, it is based around the songs of Morrissette’s album of the same name, but not based on her actual life. While the story’s main focus is on the Healys, a seemingly perfect suburban family, and their behind-closed-doors drama, Gallagher’s performance as Bella stands out in the second act of the show. After Bella is raped at a party where Nick Healy—the straight-A Harvard bound son of the family—is present, she and the suburban Connecticut community face some harsh realities.
“When I got the role, it was before the #MeToo movement began. It was before people talked about it. Honestly, seeing how our script came to life in the news every single day was miraculous,” Gallagher said. “We were actually in rehearsals during the lab when #MeToo broke, when the Weinstein stuff came out, everything. All of that happened while we were in the rehearsal room. Every day we came into work and there was a new headline about these incredible women coming forward and sharing their stories. There was no way that wasn’t going to inform both my performance and also the way the script grew and evolved.”
There are echoes of some real-life national events in Jagged Little Pill, especially with regards to what happens with the character of Bella. Gallagher credits Know My Name, Chanel Miller’s memoir about the aftermath of being sexually assaulted by Brock Turner, with helping her understand how to give a voice to Bella, and how people in her community disrespect Bella by insisting she is at fault for being assaulted by a classmate while intoxicated at a party.
The actress also recalled the moment Dr. Christine Blasey Ford gave her testimony against Brett Kavanaugh. “After we did the show in Boston, when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony began, we had people writing to us being like, ‘You need to tell this story now,’” Gallagher explained. “It’s a very similar story, Dr. Ford’s and Bella’s. It was extraordinary to see these things inform each other and watch, on the negative side, the comments to Dr. Ford about the way she looks and the way she spoke and these really atrocious things people were saying. We were watching that inform the other side of the show, and how do you get into the mind of people who are willing to be cruel and willing to turn a blind eye to this experience and so quickly dismiss and ridicule something they know nothing about? That informed a lot of the ways in which we created the world around Bella’s trauma.”
“Doing a role like this forces you to look into the truth within yourself, in the world, in situations where it’s often easy to coast by. I’ve really learned the power of community and of the people that I’m surrounded by,” Gallagher went on. “Being in a position that constantly demands vulnerability has made me respect vulnerability and emotional availability in a way that I sort of didn’t before.”
The performer also holds the responsibility of being an ear for survivors who come forward to her at the stage door after each performance to tell her about their experiences. “When you see your story told in a big way, you don’t feel so alone. I think that so many times survivors describe experiencing shame and isolating feelings,” Gallagher said. “Putting voice to this character can be liberating to witness, from what I’ve heard, and I think hearing stories from survivors and people affected by what Bella goes through is a real gift to me.”
Living in the shoes of the same character for over two years is something Gallagher calls “a dream,” but she is also very keen on keeping herself separate from Bella. In addition to watching a lot of standup comedy (she calls herself Mike Birbiglia’s “number one fan”) to cool off at the end of a performance, Gallagher has taken the advice of the show’s intimacy coach. “We had an intimacy coach work with us, and she told us our bodies can trap trauma,” the performer explained. “She told me that literally dancing it out, like Meredith and Christina do in Grey’s Anatomy—I’m a true, true superfan—is actually really helpful to release that. I literally shut the door after the show and have a dance party in my dressing room. I play all this music by badass female rockstars and I dance it out.”
Growing up, Gallagher says her mom used to play Morissette’s music all the time, with special attention paid to Jagged Little Pill. “She’d play it in the car and I’d always ask her to play ‘the cigarette song’ which of course is ‘One Hand in my Pocket,’” she explained. “I imagine that’s a very cute thing for a five year old to say, I hope. It may be worrisome, I don’t know!”
In another nod to the “full circle” nature of Gallagher’s casting in Jagged Little Pill, she said, “I think Alanis has been on every playlist I’ve made since I knew how to burn CDs.” The full circle dynamic of the show doesn’t stop there, either: Gallagher’s father, Peter Gallagher, performed in the same theater when he was in his 20s.
There are plenty of lists online ranking Gallagher’s father as one of the best TV dads of all time (Peter Gallagher played Sandy Cohen on The O.C.) but he’s just as understanding and wise in real life, too. “My dad’s biggest advice to me was, learn everybody’s name, hang up your clothes when you’re done with them—in your dressing room, but also that’s a stern rule at home as well,” the actress laughed. “Be polite, know your lines, show up on time, be kind, be grateful, and work hard. He likes to remind me, you’re going to work, you’re doing your job, and you’re really lucky to be there. I think as long as I can remember those pillars, I’m in a good way.”
Before heading out the door, and after requesting a playlist of “some early 2000s emo” to sing along to, Gallagher had one more thing to say about Jagged Little Pill. “This show cracked me open as a person. When you tell the truth, you find your people,” she said. “That’s what the past couple years have been for me. I’m really stoked on the life I’m living and the people I have in it.”