On her first proper tour in 20 years, Broadway favorite Heidi Blickenstaff is excited for adventure. In reprising the role of Mary Jane Healy, the matriarch of the Alanis Morissette jukebox musical Jagged Little Pill, Blickenstaff possesses the job of leading lady both on and off stage.
While on tour, Blickenstaff always arrives at the theatre an hour prior to curtain and it’s not just to get into character. "I need to start interacting with my company and see how they're doing,” she tells Playbill. "The most important thing to me is my real connection to other human beings, that goes for my company and the audience. I will always be a seeker of real, authentic human connection. It's why I'm an artist, I think.”
Recently, Playbill was invited backstage at the Jagged Little Pill tour stop at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music. Follow along below as Blickenstaff prepares to share the stage with all of her (show) kids in Jagged Little Pill. She explains why doing the show, with its tough subject matter, is healing for her. Plus she gives us a peak at the memento from a friend that she wears onstage every night.
“This tour is such a departure from my usual routine. I'm usually very methodical with my pre-show schtick, but I think this show and this role have broken me of a lot of my OCD tendencies. I still warm up my voice and my body. But I don't do anything or have anything that makes or breaks my show. What's important to me is that my door is open to my company as we do this thing together."
Jagged Little Pill was written by Diablo Cody and features songs by Morissette from her album of the same name (it includes the hit songs "You Oughta Know," "Ironic," and many others). The show—which centers the Healy family and their experiences with racism, drug abuse, gender nonconformity, and sexual assault—opened on Broadway in 2019, and was placed on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It then reopened after the pandemic, and then closed in December 2021. As the mother figure in the show, Blickenstaff shares the stage with a cast of actors much younger than her.
"My cast is filled with mostly young humans, most of whom are touring for the first time, and I feel very protective of them. Yes, we're bringing this extraordinary story to the country, but we're also having an adventure together and they are growing up in front of my eyes. I want them to come into my room and tell me how they're doing. They are my pre-show ritual. I. Need. Them."
Jagged Little Pill is Blickenstaff’s eighth touring production. But it’s been 20 years since Blickenstaff was last on a proper tour. This time, she notices that her body doesn’t recover as quickly as it used to after every show. So she has to be very strategic in her off hours.
"Because I'm not a kid anymore, I have to really prioritize rest, hydration, and peace. The show itself, and the crazy emotional heavy lifting that it requires, is actually really liberating. Being able to get all of that out on stage makes for a very zen Heidi."
Jagged Little Pill frankly and movingly depicts the stigmatization that sexual assault survivors face and how the path to healing is not always linear. Blickenstaff is a survivor and to her, the subject matter of the musical may be heavy, but it’s also healing.
"I'm a sexual abuse survivor. Our show has proven to be a catalyst for people sharing their experiences for the very first time. It's a very scary thing doing that. I wear my [warrior] bracelet because it reminds me that I have turned something terrible into something that has actually helped people. Now, it feels like there was a reason for it, which not too long ago seemed impossible. When someone I care about shares their story with me, I give them a bracelet too. We are warriors together. Jagged continues to heal me every single time I do it."
Following the Broadway shutdown, Blickenstaff reopened Jagged Little Pill in the role of Mary Jane Healy, which was originated by Tony nominee Elizabeth Stanley. Uniquely, the two went on to share the role following Stanley’s return to the Broadway production after being on maternity leave.
"This role, this experience, will always be fused to my friend, Elizabeth Stanley. I would not be doing this if she didn't do it first. The grace and generosity that she showed to me when I came into JLP was something utterly singular. I always want her to know that I love her and she's with me—literally on my butt every night as I wear her jeans. I could have had my own, but I wanted hers."
It’s not just Blickenstaff who is on tour. Her family is with her, as well. Blickenstaff’s Jagged Little Pill journey is spent alongside her husband Nicholas and their dog Eleanor as they drive to each tour stop.
“I don't think at this point in my life, I would have done it without them. We're kind of like the Beverly Hillbillies, driving around the country in our hybrid RAV4 with all of our junk and our dog. Our kids are in college and it was the perfect time for an adventure.”
Touring a Broadway show can be an isolating and stressful experience, no matter if it’s your first or your eighth—you’re living out of hotel rooms, you’re away from home, every location and every theatre is different which can be disorienting. That is why Blickenstaff has made it her unofficial job to look after her younger cast members and to provide a sympathetic ear.
"One of the things I learned from my [title of show] experience is the notion that 'all boats rise.' We are stronger together. Yes, I can sing a solo in a spotlight, but being a theatre actor can be so strange and isolating. The idea that we are actually an ensemble, telling this story together, is so much more comforting to me than doing this alone. I think about when I was a younger performer and who was good to me: Rebecca Luker, Randy Graff, Roger Rees…I want to be the kind of leader in my company that I would have wanted to have."
The Jagged Little Pill national tour runs until August, with stops in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and many others. View the tour schedule here.
View more photos of Blickenstaff preparing for Jagged Little Pill below.