‘You Oughta Know’ a New Type of Musical is Coming

Natalie Bassingthwaighte at Jagged Little Pill in New York City, September 2021. Photo by Evan Zimmerman.

Meet the Choreographic Minds Behind ‘Jagged Little Pill’

Interview with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui & Marc Kimelman

Theatre Royal Sydney | 2-19 December 2021
Comedy Theatre Melbourne | From 2 January 2022

Interview and article by Heather Clements

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Marc Kimelman

After several scheduling false starts thanks to the pandemic, the newly refurbished Theatre Royal in Sydney will finally welcome back audiences with the premiere of contemporary new musical Jagged Little Pill based on the iconic, angst-filled 1995 album by Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette. 

With a book by celebrated screenwriter Diablo Cody, the movement direction is by acclaimed Belgian-Moroccan dancer and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui with Canadian Marc Kimelman as his associate. Together, they have created a truly innovative musical theatre experience in Jagged Little Pill, and are now both in Sydney rehearsing the new Australian cast.

Despite the challenges of international border restrictions, quarantine, and time zones both Larbi and Marc are thrilled to bring this production to Sydney, being only the third production of the show to be staged in the world, and the first outside of the USA. 

Sure to be an exhilarating experience for musical theatre lovers, Jagged Little Pill tells the story of the perfectly imperfect, suburban Healy family striving to hide the cracks beneath the surface when a troubling event shakes their community. Inspired by the songs of Alanis Morissette, this musical will send the audience on an emotional rollercoaster and re-define the genre of the modern musical.

Heather Clements recently spoke to both Marc and Larbi during Sydney rehearsals, before the show’s tech runs and previews, about their views on the show and their creative processes involved in choreographing this new generation musical. 


Q: Welcome to Australia! So the show officially opens on December 9 here in Sydney; as choreographer and associate choreographer on the production how did you both approach the musical?
LARBI: Well, actually the show started way back in 2018 at American Repertory Theater (ART) in Boston. I did the original choreography. Marc wasn’t on board back then, but saw the show. Then we took the show to Broadway, and when we bring a show from a local theatre to Broadway we knew that we had to do some adaptations. So Marc came on board as associate choreographer because he has more experience than me in working in Broadway. So it was exciting to be working with him … Marc’s been kind of like my super support.

MARC: We have another associate, Abbey O’Brien, who works with us in New York and we’ve brought in another associate, Ebony Williams. There’s a whole dance department that does the work to make sure that we maintain Larbi’s amazing work on the show.

Q: So the original choreography for Jagged Little Pill was been done by yourself Larbi?
LARBI: Yes, but it has been morphing and adapting over time with feedback and whenever new performers were coming in it automatically changes because of this situation. So some choreography and scenes were untouched because they just felt like they worked so well and had some universality. And then some things were so personal, that it depends on who is in the role. Then on Broadway, it just felt like this we should shift and change certain parts. Theatre is a live art, so it grows and it keeps changing. As one of the songs says, … “you live, you learn.” Even coming here to Australia we are changing things. And we have a whole team of people who are willing to put their teeth into it to make it work. It is about the community, this show also speaks about that.

Jagged Little Pill creative team (L-R): Tom Kitt, Alanis Morissette, Diane Paulus, Diablo Cody, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

Q: People will be familiar with the hit 90s album; can you explain to me the synopsis of how the story has been wrapped around the music?
: It is written by Diablo Cody, who won a Tony Award for the book, together with director Diane Paulus. And all of us chipped in at a certain moments in the process giving feedback on the evolution of the characters. But it’s really Diablo Cody’s genius of making it possible to have these songs as a point of departure for characters to emerge from this dysfunctional family. It’s about a family dealing with issues, past and present, and she saw these songs as representative of this character or that character or the whole family in general.

And then Diane had this really amazing idea of having a ‘consciousness’, like a Greek choir, being around the family and looking at them and commenting on them. This one family that is trying to keep living in their little bubble, but basically need to understand that there are bigger issues and that we’re actually a whole community. So the book really grew from these songs, especially from the song, ‘Mary Jane’… that song kind of like created the main character, which is the mother figure (played by Natalie Bassingthwaighte). She’s kind of like the centre around which everything is turning.

Q: So Natalie she is the lead character then?
: Natalie’s Mary Jane (MJ) is the lead character together with her daughter Frankie (played by Emily Nkomo). The story is based around the mother-daughter dynamic of MJ and Frankie, with Steve (Tim Draxyl) as the father figure Steve, and brother Nick (Liam Head). They are all important in in telling the tragic and funny storylines, and how it all kind of escalates. The chemistry between them is pretty amazing. You get into the vibe of each character and see how they impact each other… like the pressure the parents put on Nick and Frankie; the way Frankie questions the status quo of the family from the perspective of who she is and what she represents in the world; like the way she is in school, and with her best friend Jo (Maggie McKenna). So one could say the whole family unit is the lead character.

Liam Head, Grace Miell, Tim Draxl, Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Emily Nkomo, AYDAN, Maggie McKenna. Photo credit Stuart Miller.

Q: So have they used every song on the album or has new music been written as well?
: All the songs from the Jagged Little Pill album are in it and also some songs from other albums that made sense to include. There are also two new songs from Alanis – ‘Smiling’ and ‘Predator’.

Q: In terms of the challenges of creating this show from a creative point of view, give me an idea of the way you went about approaching the vibe and styles of the movement?
: The hardest part, especially in Broadway, was that many of the cast were not really dancers. But it’s different here.

MARC: I first saw the show because like you, I am the peak demographic, and I’m also Canadian and grew up with Alanis as an idol. So as soon as I saw Jagged Little Pill was becoming a musical, I went to see it in Boston and within the first half an hour, I knew I was feeling something I’ve never felt before from a musical theatre piece. For me, as a choreographer, that came from watching Larbi’s work. The movement was unlike anything I’ve felt, because it pulled from so many different styles and it has this really raw and unfiltered emotion to it that is very visceral, you can feel it. So, using all of those styles combined with the intention of the movement is, I think, what really draws people to the piece.

LARBI: I remember the time where we had singers with incredible acting skills, but their way of handling the body was so, it was intentional. And that was really exciting to be locking in, because very good dancers, they know this, they know to move with intention. There were three dancers and for the rest it was mainly all-around performers. Of course, they could do eight counts and stuff, but it wasn’t like day-to-day dancers, or me and Marc, who do this on a regular basis.

On Broadway what was exciting, coming from a place of intention and humanity. What is the meaning of the movement that you’re doing? And connecting to it from a very personal place and with integrity, making sure that the performance actually came from the inside. But it was still on the counts, it was on the beat, it was all, you know, we had to be together, but there was something deeper that you could access with these performers, because they spoke that language of intention.

I love that when choreography becomes so organic that you don’t question it. You’re not looking at it with that lens of dance, they’re human beings telling an amazing story.

When you ask me if it is a heavily danced-based show, it’s hard for me to say, because I feel like it’s all movement. My title is movement director, was because things had to move literally in the show. And we had to have the performers move stuff around and so is that not choreography? And what’s great is that everybody was chipping in on what is the intention of this character, what makes more sense in the architecture of the space. But it’s different here in Australia than it is in Broadway.

Q: In what way is it different?
LARBI: Some layers are different, like purely the technology has evolved. Here, we have these LED screens that we don’t have on Broadway. It generates a different luminosity, which creates different perspective in the space. And so we feel, it makes more sense the body’s over there and not over there. And so that changes the choreography because you’re not in the same space, and it needs adapting. It’s exciting! Because I hadn’t arrived yet, Marc was constantly reshuffling all the cards and adapting the show’s movement for the Theatre Royal in Sydney.

Q: What’s the Australian cast like to work with?
: They’ve been excellent. I’m really impressed by the work ethic. What’s really exciting also is we have a lot of people and it’s their first professional show ever. So there’s going to be a whole crop of new blood on the Australian stages that people will get to see. We have an incredibly diverse cast and a lot of triple threat performers and they really want it, they really want to be challenged and they are really present with us.

LARBI: Every day we get to rehearse, engage and share our truths with each other is a great day after so many changes to the schedule. It’s beautiful to feel the experience of this collective energy. The cast, I must say, from my perspective as well are so talented. There’s such an incredible ability in them all … the voices, the way they come out, are effortless. And that’s so beautiful to see.

Q: The Jagged Little Pill album is almost 30 years old. How do you think it’s relevant to today?
: I think first of all, the lyrics of Alanis are kind of timeless. They really speak about how you are dealing with your reality around you in the most honest way. For me, Alanis is eloquence … she’s articulate and she speaks up in her music. That’s what makes her so attractive, and at the same time can be too much for some people because she’s saying things we shouldn’t be talking about. The music is relevant today because we are at a time where everybody is daring to speak up finally about things that needed to be said, and yes it’s uncomfortable, and can make you be on the wrong side at some point, but you are learning. The song ‘You Live You Learn’ is really the mantra of the production because we have so much to learn from each other by listening and growing.

And I think the show is speaking about very powerful themes and issues, like consent, interracial adoption, identity, blackness, queerness, and addiction. On Alanis’ Album ‘Under Rug Swept’ is a song about not speaking about something that you should be talking about.

And I think in that sense, the show is extremely relevant. Diablo Cody is also such a big fan of Alanis and you can feel the incredible respect of the original songs and how she took them as a springboard for the musical.

Jagged Little Pill the Musical Original Broadway cast – Lauren Patten and Company. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Q: What has been Alanis Morissette’s input into the show, if any?
LARBI: A lot, you know, like she was around so much in ART in 2018, and even in Broadway, she would always look at the videos and give these very witty remarks. Her notes to Diane, Diablo and me were always spot-on about the characters. She always said, “it’s your show, but I feel this or that” and we always would implement whatever she was saying because she was our go-to figure, she was the source of it all. She was the one who made all of us come together.

So Alanis has been a real team player to the ‘n’th degree, like even during the difficult moments she would chip in and say “well I think we shouldn’t shy away from this, and we should address this issue”. Even when some producers were afraid, Alanis would stand by the necessity to address an issue because it’s personal to her. So in a way, long story short, I think this musical is personal to her, even though she didn’t write it, she really, really relates to every single character on the stage.

Q: Can you tell me from both of your points of view, what has been the biggest challenge of bringing this show to life, not just in Australia, but in general?
: Well, one of the challenges I had was the fact that we were in different time zones when we were working on preparing this. It was hard to find times that worked for everybody in Boston, Europe, New York and Australia. Then COVID was a challenge of course, trying to coordinate all the different international regulations of borders and restrictions. Because our team is a team of foreigners, we are immigrating in for a while, and that was definitely challenging I think for the producers to make all of that happen.

MARC: Well for me the challenge, which is exciting, is being part of a show that is constantly evolving. Most shows are set and then you move them around and it’s the exact same thing from one stage to another. But as Larbi was saying, this is a show that’s evolving with the times and being a part of something like that is challenging, but creatively so rewarding. So, that was the best challenge for me… just every day figuring out how this show works with the world today.

Jagged Little Pill the Musical Original Broadway cast – Celia Rose Gooding & Lauren Patten and Company. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Q: And on the other hand, do you have a highlight or favourite part of the show?
LARBI: Usually I work on opera and classical music as a choreographer, but I am a huge fan of Alanis Morissette’s music and I love pop. I usually have to study hard when working on a project, but with Jagged Little Pill I didn’t have to study at all because I knew all her songs, I have all her albums, and it made the process of creating so much easier.

I don’t really have a favourite number, but the one I’m most proud of is ‘Uninvited’, it’s from another album. It’s a very famous song of Alanis that kind of speaks about things that are unwelcome. And this song is, without wanting to give any spoilers, kind of like a moment where MJ has to handle herself, dealing with where she has ended up. I’m really proud of the choreography with MJ. It came very organically; very naturally, it’s something I did in two hours. Like it just burst out of me.

MARC: Well, I remember seeing the original Jagged Little Pill in Boston and half an hour into the show there’s a number called ‘Smiling’. When I saw that my jaw dropped. Larbi had created a masterpiece. And like I said earlier, it is unlike anything I’d seen in a musical theatre production, and not just the idea, but also the execution of it. Similar to like ‘Uninvited’ being an iconic piece of musical theatre now, I think ‘Smiling’ is unbelievable work.

Q: Don’t you tend to do more traditional contemporary works Larbi?
LARBI: Yes, my journey was much more contemporary dance. There’s always a point of intellectual departure. We would research with the performers, a lot of Australians, about how to create a show from nothing, from one idea, so I’m used to writing a show. And then coming into a world of classical ballet where the story already exists and making a version of my idea of what the story could be. It’s the same with opera, where we interpret the storyline. That’s been my evolution over 25 years in this career. I’ve been around! So getting back to a musicals has been wonderful, it was my first love, I mean, I’m a Bob Fosse fan!

And so I’ve been kind of like a butterfly going from flower to flower, and this invitation to work on this show was a big ‘yes’. I didn’t have to think about it at all. The idea of it being a musical came along at an interesting time with where I am at in my journey as a choreographer. And then I felt I actually really wanted to do it, to go back to a first love.

Opening night of Jagged Little Pill in New York City on Broadway at The Broadhurst Theatre, December 2019. Photo by Bruce Glikas

Q: At the end of the day it comes down to storytelling, doesn’t it?
: My analysis of it was that my more theatrical work really relates to how they’re making musicals and contemporary musicals in the US right now. The way they’re approaching this show is totally what I’m also doing in a contemporary context. So I felt like it was a normal shift for me, more than say going to contemporary dance in the US, which sometimes feels a little vague to me. I feel completely understood and accepted in the context of musical theatre in Jagged Little Pill.

Q: What is your dance background Marc?
: I was five years old and selling tickets to the show after dinner. I’d put on my Michael Jackson jacket and would create performances for my family. My parents put me into dance when I was nine. I started in hip-hop and ballroom and then classic jazz. But I also didn’t know that this was a feasible occupation, like a real job. So I also went to university and studied psychology and business. Then out of school, I was given a choreography position because people knew I studied dance and it just kind of went from there.

I did perform, mainly in musical theatre, but I never really got the thrill that my peers had from performing, I was more interested with the creators, with the challenges. I could problem solve. I would be onstage and I thinking, oh I kind of have a knack for being where they are at the back of the audience, you know. So I felt more of a connection to the creative team than being a performer.

My first professional gig was as a dancer for the Toronto Raptors, it was a basketball team, I was doing hip-hop Janet Jackson moves. That’s where it kind of started for me, but I’ve been all over the place and have been living in New York the past 10 years.

Q: How did you start in performing Larbi?
: Well, I think the first performer that like made me want to dance when I was very young, was Kate Bush. I was mesmerised by her way of moving and the fluidity and how she was, it just kind of made me feel like I want to be that, I want to do that. And then, yes also Janet Jackson.

I’d invite my friends home from school and teach them the moves from videos. I was constantly trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle to get a 360 degree understanding of what the whole thing was about, microscope and micro and macro, and it never left me, that idea of whether it’s my own choreography or someone else’s. I started doing more hip-hop and commercial TV style dancing, like go-go dancing. My first paid job was dancing in silver trunks on poles and honestly, I’m so proud of that because I feel like that was the hardest audience, because they don’t want you there, they want beautiful ladies. And then you’re there as some skinny guy trying to do something cool that makes them go like, oh, he’s good.

Q: Finally, what can the audiences expect at Jagged Little Pill?
: They can expect the unexpected. It’s a bit like a rollercoaster. Emotionally, I think there will be moments that just hit so close to home for people, and then other moments that you’re laughing because it’s also really funny, before suddenly turning into a tragedy. I know I cried a lot as an audience member in New York.

MARC: I’m always crying too!

LARBI: Because the music is linked to personal history, the music really brings out emotions in the story from the compelling performances. The characters are so intricate and layered. It’s a magical thing. Some musicals really changed the game; I remember A Chorus Line and RENT really pushed the genre, and I think Jagged Little Pill does it too.



SYDNEY ⏤ Theatre Royal
2 – 19 December 2021

MELBOURNE ⏤ Comedy Theatre
From 2 January 2022

Bookings: www.jaggedmusical.com


BIO | Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Honoured with a Fred & Adele Astaire Award for Outstanding Choreographer in a Feature Film in 2013 (Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina) and a UK Music Video Award for Best Choreography in 2013 (Sigur Rós’ Valtari), Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui choreographs for companies and artists including Beyoncé (“Apesh*t” By The Carter’s, Tidal X Charity Concert, Grammy Awards 2017), Cirque du Soleil (Michael Jackson ONE, Kurios), Joe Wright (A Season in the Congo), Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet (Orbo Novo), Pilobolus (Automaton), Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project (Harbor Me), and Martha Graham Dance Company (Mosaic). He has received ballet commissions from Paris Opera Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, and The Royal Ballet in London (upcoming). Cherkaoui is artistic director of Royal Ballet Flanders and his own company, Eastman.


BIO | Marc Kinelman
Marc Kimelman is an award-winning choreographer from Toronto, Canada currently residing in New York City. He has worked in every area of the entertainment industry- including Broadway, music, fashion, film, and television – bringing his gifts for storytelling through forward-thinking movement. He is currently the Associate Choreographer for Broadway’s A BRONX TALE. As a theater Choreographer, Marc’s credits include Stratford Shakespeare Festival (MAN OF LA MANCHA), THE WIZARD OF OZ (Theatre by the Sea), COMPANY directed by Gary Griffin, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND (Toronto’s Dora award for Outstanding Choreography), BROADWAY BARES 22 & 23, and Off-Broadway’s Outer-Critic’s Circle nominated production of PLAY IT COOL. Additionally, he choreographed JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (North Carolina Theatre) and THE BALLAD OF LITTLE JO (Two River Theatre). On tour, Marc also choreographed the National Tour of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.
As an Associate Choreographer Marc’s credits include Broadway’s Tony-nominated revival of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and the 1st national tour of Queen’s WE WILL ROCK YOU. Additional Associate Choreographer theater credits include Disney’s workshop production of FREAKY FRIDAY, the Broadway workshop production of HANDS ON A HARD BODY, and Paper Mill Playhouse’s ONCE ON THIS ISLAND
In television Marc’s work has been seen on the hit CBS drama ELEMENTARY. He has also choreographed for DEGRASSI: THE NEXT GENERATION. His work on the silver screen will next be seen in the feature film DON’T TALK TO IRENE, starring Academy Award winner Geena Davis, which will have its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.
Marc has worked with the New York City Ballet, Katy Perry, Phish, Kurt Browning, Deborah Cox, Neil Young, Patti Lupone, and Chaka Kahn. In print, Marc has worked as a movement consultant for Vogue magazine (Charlize Theron’s 2012 cover with Annie Leibovitz and the September Issue 2014 with ASAP Rocky and Chanel Iman). Marc has created shows for Holland America Cruise Lines and Hershey Park (RWS), and is on faculty at Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway.
Marc recently choreographed BILLY ELLIOT at GoodSpeed Opera House and is the associate Choreographer for Broadway’s JAGGED LITTLE PILL


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