Though it can change day-to-day, Kathryn Gallagher’s most consistent choice for favorite Alanis Morissette song is “Hands Clean,” from Morissette’s 2002 album “Under Rug Swept.”
“Right? It’s just so good. I feel like it’s the most underrated, too,” the actress says, sipping water from a Diet Coke cup, seated on a couch looking every bit as relaxed as she did moments prior having her photo taken. “The lyrics in that, oh my God, I can’t even.”
And though she stars on Broadway in the new original musical “Jagged Little Pill,” written by Diablo Cody using Morissette’s music, “Hands Clean” is one of the songs she doesn’t actually get to sing in the show.
“Every night when they sing it in the show, as soon as I [walk] off stage, I sing along. I’m so ready for it every night,” Gallagher says. “I’m that song’s hype man in our show.”
A few minutes into meeting the 26-year-old actress, it’s not hard to picture this scene: her in the wings, exhausted from her own grueling performance as Bella but nonetheless giving in to her deep love for all things Morissette, charmed and wowed by the singer’s music night after night after night.
It’s Monday afternoon, her day off, and Gallagher is buzzing around Manhattan in a very to-theme Nineties look (slipdress over T-shirt, platform boots, half-up hair), chatting with press roughly one month into the show’s Broadway run before making a quick change for a Grammys party later in the night. The art of the balancing act is alive and well for the performer, who when she’s not onstage, is working on her own album — a juggle she says is oddly productive for both crafts.
“It’s basically in the studio during the day, during the show at night,” she says of her schedule. “But I think it’s good. It exercise my brain into such different ways — it’s like doing yoga and running. You’re supposed to do them both.”
The fact that she has been living in an Alanis Morissette world for the past handful of years has influenced her own song creation process — but she admits the Canadian singer would’ve found her way into her music no matter what.
“Alanis has influenced my music since I was a kid because I’m a huge fan of hers,” Gallagher says. And adding on top of that, being able to watch her work, being able to every day be immersed in her writing, which is so deeply inquisitive and fearlessly honest. It’s constantly challenging me to up my game. I’m like ‘Well she’s this good, so you’ve got to try for that.’”
Gallagher, who is the daughter of actor Peter Gallagher, grew up between New York and Los Angeles, returning to New York from Silver Lake at 22 for her Broadway debut, in “Spring Awakening.”
She always knew she wanted to be a performer — “there never was another option, this was just it” — but she focused on music first, playing guitar at the age of eight and then writing songs. Acting was harder for her to rationalize initially, because what teenage girl wants to admit they’re just like their dad?
“I think I did intentionally steer away from acting a little bit, just because I was like ‘My dad does it, I don’t want to be my dad,’” she says. “But then I ended up in ‘Spring Awakening,’ which was great because I got to play electric guitar. I got to really expand the music side of me, and I started auditioning again and doing a few readings here and there, and I was like, ‘Oh no, I love this! I’m just like my dad, turns out.’”
A diehard Morissette fan, Gallagher first heard about “Jagged Little Pill” when it was announced in 2013, and recently traced back an e-mail she sent to her parents immediately following the news with a link, writing “I need to do this,” which she’d forgotten she’d sent.
“So clearly I’ve been chasing this job for longer than I even remember,” she says.
The plot is a bit hard to summarize without giving the whole thing away: there’s a family in Connecticut, there are issues of race, sexuality, coming-of-age, and there are major explorations of sexual assault in the #MeToo movement, of which Gallagher’s character, Bella, is at the center of.
“You know, she’s brave as hell. I think that she gets put in an impossible situation and she gets faced with ridicule on a level that most of us won’t have to deal with, thank God. But it’s a story that I know too well, it’s a story my friends know too well, it’s, it’s something that I just felt so passionately needed to be told,” Gallagher says. “It teaches me more about being a strong person in my own life every day, more than I could have ever imagined.”
Since the beginning run in Boston through now on Broadway, Gallagher has received outreach from women of all ages who want to share their own stories of sexual assault with her. With some, she was the first person they’d told.
“I think it just shows us that representation of all different kinds really matters. The stories we tell really do have a great impact in people’s everyday lives,” Gallagher says.
Her impact continues: the show uses all existing Morissette songs, with the addition of one from Morissette’s upcoming album and one she wrote for the show, a song called “Predator,” which Gallagher performs.
“I remember getting the MP3 demo of it; it’s Alanis singing this brand new song no one’s ever heard before — I signed away my life to make sure I wouldn’t share it,” Gallagher says. “And it kind of hit me: I was like ‘Oh, the first time people hear this brand new Alanis song, it’s going to be from me.’”
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