Non-binary performer Jade McLeod has one hand in their pocket as Jo in Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill. The other hand is giving a peace sign now that the past controversy is finally settled following the musical's debut on Broadway in 2019. The show's producers received strong criticism for the mishandling of the character that McLeod now portrays on the North American tour, which has been adjusted both onstage and behind the scenes.
The musical uses Morissette's catalog of work as inspiration to address topics such as addiction and sexual assault. The book by Juno author Diablo Cody follows a very complicated American family on a challenging journey for a year. The Broadway production took home two of the 15 nominated categories at the 74th Tony Awards in 2021 and won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album that same year.
McLeod hails from Canada and brings a regional background of musical theater credits such as Mamma Mia! and Priscilla Queen of the Desert to the 2023 North American tour of Jagged Little Pill.
They spoke with Windy City Times while out on the road over the phone before arriving in Chicago.
Windy City Times: Where in the world are you right now?
Jade McLeod: I am in Cincinnati, Ohio and out walking my dog Banksy.
WCT: Where did you grow up?
JM: I grew up in Pickering, Ontario, which is a suburb of Toronto. I fell in love with theater in high school. It was there that I began singing and playing trumpet as well.
WCT: Are your pronouns they/them?
JM: Yes. My whole life I felt non-binary. A few years ago when Sam Smith and Demi Lovato both came out publicly using the term, I figured out that it was also describing me. That gave me permission to be freer to be myself and more expressive. It made everything else in my life fall into place.
WCT: Do you think about how you are now helping others with your role and platform in the same way as Sam and Demi did?
JM: Yes, kids come to see our show and tell me after that they are so thankful they can see themselves onstage. I tell them I am just being me and then they say how happy they are to just see me onstage and to be visible. I know exactly how they feel!
WCT: The Jagged Little Pill tour goes to many places where representation can be hard to find, right?
JM: Totally. There are people out there that have never been in the same room with a non-binary person that they know of, let alone root for them in a show before. That is very rewarding for me to be in a touring show as opposed to Broadway in New York. Some subscribers for the tour in these towns have no idea what they signed up for when seeing Jagged Little Pill.
WCT: What led you to the show?
JM: A dear friend of mine saw it in previews in New York and told me that I needed to do the show. I was in Canada at the time and started listening to the cast album. I already felt like a rock singer and just got obsessed with the material from there.
I put it at the top of my list and then the tour came about, so I auditioned. When I made it past the first round, I screamed at the top of my lungs!
WCT: Jagged Little Pill hasn't played in Chicago before. Can you describe it for audiences?
JM: It is about an American family who are all morally different, particularly their matriarch Mary Jane Healy. It centers around a mother/daughter relationship with her daughter Frankie who is unapologetic and unafraid. Through that relationship, the audience is introduced to other characters like Jo, who I play. Frankie and Jo are best friends with benefits.
It rolls out like a movie, as all of their lives change very drastically. They confront and face things while making it to the other side, which is what life is all about.
WCT: How do you connect with your character Jo?
JM: I have never seen a queer, non-binary trans person like this before. Jo is sarcastic, angsty and many other things. I see myself like this. I step into that and bring that energy into the room.
WCT: The musical Head Over Heels had the first non-binary principal role on Broadway, didn't it?
JM: Yes, you are correct. I haven't seen that one yet.
WCT: Did you see Lauren Patten play Jo on Broadway?
JM: Not live, but I went to some rehearsals before it closed. I have talked to her, and she has made Jo an unfathomably lovable character. It's a gift to know that the audience will be entirely on my side, just from the text, because the part is so well created.
For me being non-binary, the same as Jo, makes this all such a great connection.
WCT: I read that there was written text about Jo being non-binary taken out by the creatives before the original Broadway run. Is that true?
JM: I don't have information about that and was not there, but what I do know is that, from Broadway to the touring version, there have been some changes. We workshopped Jagged Little Pill in New York before touring, and everyone was open to suggestions and bringing myself into the role.
That doesn't usually happen on a tour. Touring shows are usually trying to recreate the Broadway version as much as possible. We kept what worked, and I got to add more of a masculine side to it, such as the baseball hat and Jo's gender journey at the end of the show. The costuming is very intentional, and the reactions from the audience have been great with feedback about it.
It is not so cut-and-dry as everyone wants it to be, but what I do know is that it feels great!
WCT: I'm already feeling emotional about it and I haven't even seen it yet. There are several possibly triggering moments for audiences within the story. Jagged Little Pill is recommended for ages 14 years old and up?
JM: Yes, there is sexual assault content that is serious. There is also drug abuse content that I personally felt triggered by, but it is not HBO's Euphoria. The fact that it is performed live can make it more overwhelming to some people. If they take care of themselves they will be okay.
WCT: That's a good point to make that live theater is a completely different experience than watching the same thing on television.
JM: The communal empathic experience with us and the audience can definitely make it more overwhelming.
WCT: Didn't the production team begin sensitivity training and create a human resource department to address the past issues of Broadway's Jagged Little Pill?
JM: Absolutely. They take care of us and the audience. There are signs everywhere about the content, including in the bathrooms. We had a four-hour training on day one to talk about the issues that exist in our industry and navigate the content of the show as artists.
WCT: This sounds groundbreaking. I interviewed Alanis Morissette in 2012 and her music seems to translate into a storyline fairly easily.
JM: It does surprisingly well, especially the first track of the album Jagged Little Pill, "All I Really Want," which is at the top of our show. It is the perfect song to depict what all the characters want within the concept of a musical. Alanis wrote those lyrics and they fit so well. The music is iconic and even more relatable now than it did over 20 years ago. This just shows how far ahead of her time she was.
Jagged Little Pill is not a typical jukebox musical. We have some talented rap singers in this cast and Heidi Blickenstaff as MJ sings her head off. If you want an Alanis Morissette concert with a touching story then you will get both!
WCT: Speaking of other cast members, does the touring show have a diverse cast?
JM: Yes. They were very intentional with casting. It is about a white Connecticut family with a Black daughter, which is important to the story. The ensemble cast and crew represent America, with over 10 trans and non-binary people. The creative team has been very diligent about not reinforcing negative stereotypes and the drug dealer is played by a white person. Casting people of color has been important to the producers as well.
This show has been carefully and meticulously built from the ground up. It is not perfect, but the team is all doing the work to make this show as inclusive as possible.
WCT: Where would you like to see your career go in the future?
JM: This show has personally opened my eyes and I want to tell more stories through someone like Jo. I want to play roles that some people might imagine for men. I want to tell stories that are factual and mean a lot to people who have sometimes not had a spotlight on them before.
WCT: So a career continuing with activism?
JM: Art is activism, and that has spoken to me my entire life. It is just who I am and why I was put on this earth. This all comes naturally to me!
"You Outta Know" that Jagged Little Pill has a limited run from April 11 to 23, 2023 at James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 West Randolph Street. Tickets can currently be found at BroadwayInChicago.com .