Debut of the Month: You Oughta Know About JAGGED LITTLE PILL's Celia Rose Gooding
Celia Rose Gooding makes her Broadway debut as Frankie Healy in Jagged Little Pill. Inspired by the themes and emotions of Alanis Morissette's Grammy-winning album of the same name, the original musical tells a story about love, family, and the perfect imperfections that make us who we are. Today, the actress speaks with BroadwayWorld about making her Broadway debut in a show that asks us to live our truth and celebrate it.
[NOTE: BroadwayWorld's fabulous photographer Jennifer Broski captures images of the Broadway stars profiled in our monthly column in a special photo shoot. Check out the pics of Celia Rose Gooding throughout the feature!]
Congratulations on the success of the show! I read in your bio that you are currently enrolled as a musical theater major at Pace University.
Yes, I'm taking a year off right now because I want to put one hundred percent focus on the show, but I am still enrolled as a student there.
I would imagine that going from a full-time student to your Broadway debut in just over a year must have been quite a journey.
It's just been crazy. And actually this journey began when I was in high school. During my junior year of high school I got to be part of the first 29-hour reading of the first draft of the show. Because my school was so incredibly supportive, I was able to take some time off to do that reading. And then during my senior year I actually got to do my senior project as the show in Boston. So I've really had some practice in balancing school life and work life. And now that I have one hundred percent work life, it has been really, really gratifying, and in some ways, a little bit easier than it would have been if I was trying to do school at the same time. So it's the perfect project in many ways. I am learning so much about what I would have been studying in school, except I actually get to do it!
On-the-job training, as they say.
Yes, that's exactly what it is!
How familiar were you with Alanis Morissette's music prior to your casting?
I knew some of her songs. I knew all of her hits, like "You Oughta Know," "Ironic", "Head Over Feet." But I really started falling madly in love with her music when I booked that initial reading because I wanted to know as much about her as I could. So I started listening to her music, I started looking at her podcasts. And I wish I knew more about her sooner because she is just so incredible. Alanis' mind is just so vast, it's just the coolest place in my opinion. She is incredibly brilliant and I wish I could have been a fan of hers since birth because she stands for everything that I dream of.
What do you think it is about her music that lends itself so well to a piece of musical theater?
It's timeless. The way she tells stories with her music, the way she communicates is so timeless. She just has a way of encapsulating such deep and complex and necessary parts of the human experience. She has this power of taking emotion and taking feeling and putting them not only into lyrics, but putting them into the music itself. The way it flows and the way it's so deeply expressive. I get tongue-tied and speechless when I try to talk about it because it's so amazing. Alanis has this understanding of the importance of telling the truth and the importance of taking a look at yourself in the mirror and saying, 'this is who I am, and everything I do deserves to be done in its truth." Because when people try to sugarcoat it or try to make themselves seem "acceptable" to other people, they become a watered-down version of themselves. Alanis puts the truth out there and says, this is what it is and this deserves to be celebrated because it is part of the human experience. And I think that's why Jagged Little Pill works so well, because everyone who comes to see the show, at least I hope everyone who comes to see the show, can find a piece of themselves in this story, and can feel represented and can feel like they are seen. And I really think that is the draw of it.
Along those lines, can you talk about the truth that your character Frankie is struggling with in this story?
Well Frankie is someone who fights so hard for other people but she sometimes forgets that there is a ripple effect in the things that she does and the things that she says. She wants to change lives and she wants to change history, and she gets so invested on the macro level that she sometimes forgets about the micro level of her personal life. But that's human. Once we open our eyes so wide, sometimes the vision of what's right in front of us gets a little blurred. And I think that is what she is facing and dealing with in the show. And I'm so glad that I get to tell that story because as black women, we forget that we also deserve to be fought for, the same way that we fight for other people. And so Frankie is coming into her blackness and she is coming into her queerness and she's coming into her story at such an important moment in her life, where she is so used to fighting for these big, macro social issues but on a micro level, she may be running over the people who are most important to her. So by her thinking she's this perfect social justice warrior is really just the tip of the iceberg of who she really is.
You mentioned earlier that you hope audience members can find a piece of themselves in this story. Can you find a piece of yourself in Frankie?
Oh yes, absolutely! Frankie reminds me so much of myself at her age, although I was not nearly as deeply wise and omniscient as she is. But in the sense that I too was someone who was coming into my blackness and coming into my queerness and coming into the impact that I had at the same point that she is. And now that I'm older and I can look at it as someone who is no longer at that point or at that age, I get to inform her story with a level of knowing that I think is so important. And I'm so grateful for that. And I hope that there are young, black girls who see themselves in Frankie and understand that they are allowed to be flawed, and they are allowed to be messy and they are allowed to learn and make mistakes. And by playing this role, I get to allow myself a lot of healing as well.
You have been working with a dream creative team on this project. What has that experience been like and what have you learned from them?
Well let me start by saying that I fangirl at work everyday. [laughing] I fangirl privately in the safety and comfort of my own dressing room, but it's like, I get to work with true experts in their field. I'm working with such incredible, brilliant minds and I wish I could just write down all the pearls of wisdom that I hear everyday. Diane Paulus is a genius. She has this way of letting everyone know exactly what's going on, in the most subtle ways but also in ways that are just so clear. Sidi Larbi our choreographer, another genius, another person who I think is at the top of their game, the way he communicates and expresses the human experience through movement, it's magical. The way he talks about what he's trying to express, it's so deeply intricate and specific, but also it's so relatable. Everyone can take something from it and everyone can find exactly what it is they need to give, because it is so specific. He has this other-worldly level of expression that transcends language, and that's why it's movement - because there's no way to put it in words. It's just an instinctual, guttural, almost primal thing. It's amazing.
And like you, this show marks the Broadway debut for [book writer] Diablo Cody.
Yes, Diablo Cody is so brilliant. She has this way of finding humor in stuff that is really deep and sometimes difficult to tackle. She just has a full understanding of how we as people deflect difficult things and situations through comedy. And that is something that I find is so universal. We all make jokes about things when we can't handle their truth. We're tackling a lot of issues in this show and she finds ways to find humor in all of it because the moment that we laugh, we open ourselves up to the next thing that hits even harder. So humor and honesty and truth allow us to create a comfortable space for the audience so that they can leave the theater with an understanding that they may not have been able to have if they were just dropped into this deep story without Diablo's humor. She's a true wordsmith, as I call her.
You spoke earlier about the genius of Alanis' music, but the show also features phenomenal orchestrations of that music by Tom Kitt.
Yes, I just get to work with the most incredible people, don't I? I mean I just can't wait for this cast album to come out so that everyone can have a slice of how brilliant that man is. Alanis is a genius, she has created a deeply, impactful album, and so has Tom. The way he has been able to take such a timeless piece of art and even deepen it and expand on it, it has just been such a pleasure to be a part of.
In particular, his orchestration of "You Oughta Know" is a true show-stopper.
It is. Lauren Patten is an incredible performer and I'm just so lucky to get to work with her. That number specifically is such a turning point in the show and Lauren Patten, oh I'm getting chills just thinking about it, she is just a bad mama jama in that moment! It's clear throughout the show how insanely talented she is, but in that moment, the fact that she can stand completely still and not even look my character in the eye, but yet get every smidgeon of truth out so clearly and so focused and so pointed, it's just a testament to how incredible she is. And I don't think there's been a single performance, including the Boston run, where she hasn't received a standing ovation for that performance. And she deserves it every single time.
Finally, what was it like to make your Broadway debut in Jagged Little Pill?
You're going to have to give me a second because trying to put it in words ... oh goodness! It's everything I wanted it to be but nothing I expected it to be. Getting on that stage and hearing people enjoying the show and watching them go on this experience with us and then afterwards, seeing how well it was received. I don't have kids, but it must be like sending your kid off to college and getting that first phone call and hearing how much they love it and enjoy it and feeling like, 'oh, thank goodness!' That feeling of joy, that feeling of, alright, let's do it again and again and again. I'm so lucky and I'm so grateful and I'm so blessed to be telling this story at this moment in my life. Every time I see anyone who had a piece of getting me to where I am today I have to just thank them. Whenever I see Tom, the first thing I say is thank you, whenever I see Diane I say thank you, whenever I see Sidi Larbi I say thank you, whenever I see Diablo Cody I say thank you, whenever I see the producers. Because I've been given such a blessing and I've been given such an honor and I will never be able to fully express how grateful I am. I don't know what I've done to deserve this. I must have had good karma in a past life.
And maybe talent has a little bit to do with it as well.
Maybe a little. Maybe a sliver. But I am finally coming to terms with the fact that this is what I was meant to do. And it's a wonderful feeling!
BroadwayWorld congratulates Celia Rose Gooding on her Broadway debut in Jagged Little Pill. The actress returns to the role following her performance in the world premiere of the musical at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Past roles include Penelope Pennywise in URINETOWN and Carmen Diaz in FAME at The Rosetta LeNoire Musical Theatre Academy in New York City. Celia has studied Acting and Film at the Berridge Conservatory and studied dance at The Alvin Ailey Institute.