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A Nonbinary Broadway Voice

Jade McLeod stars in the touring rock musical Jagged Little Pill.

Jade McLeod and the cast of Jagged Little Pill (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Musical theater fans oughta know about Jade McLeod, who is bringing their show-stopping voice and artistry to the Theatre Under the Stars stage in Jagged Little Pill from August 29 to September 10. As a nonbinary artist, portraying a queer character is a professional and cultural role McLeod doesn’t take lightly. The performer and activist is thrilled to delight Houston audiences, along with the rest of the show’s cast, with this story inspired by the music of rock icon Alanis Morissette.

“I play Jo, and Jo’s best friend Frankie is one of the main characters. The show centers around this mother-daughter relationship, similar to the album itself. Joe is Frankie’s best friend-with-benefits,” McLeod explains. “Their relationship depicts this young, very pure love where two misfits have found each other and are helping each other—it’s them against the world. Jo is queer and in a family that doesn’t accept that. They are playing with gender and exploring their gender identity, which is something their family is not super down with.”

Jade McLeod (l) and Lauren Chanel in a scene from Jagged Little Pill (Photo by Matthew Murphy/Evan Zimmerman)

The musical,  named after the 1995 Alanis Morissette album, is packed with rock classics that audiences will recognize. McLeod is both a fan of the production and a key player. “‘Hand in My Pocket’ comes at the beginning of the show. It’s a moment of levity and is just really fun to sing,” the artist says of the song. “It’s very fun to flirt onstage with [Lauren] Chanel, who plays Frankie. As far as my favorite song in the show, I really love ‘All I Really Want,’ which also comes at the top of the show. It’s the start of the album, and it’s this perfect moment when we get a glimpse into what all the different characters in this family are struggling with.”

The pressure of performing recognizable, iconic songs that have transcended generations is something McLeod is well aware of. “Oh my God, yeah, there’s pressure! ‘You Oughta Know’ definitely catches me off guard every once in a while with how intense that moment is. Audiences really have to wait until the end of the show. I know that everybody’s kind of looking at their program like, ‘Okay, when is this song gonna happen?’ And then I get to do it. [As soon as] the first lyric comes out of my mouth, people in the audience react and I can hear them go, ‘Oh my God!’”

Although the songs are rock standards, McLeod emphasizes how each character shapes their songs in unique ways. “You never want to just let it be these iconic rock songs and rock moments. It’s gonna still come from a place of depth and honesty with the characters, and that’s the truth. The hard part is keeping it grounded in what each character is experiencing.”

McLeod uses their social-media presence to advocate for LGBTQ rights and other social-justice causes, even protesting injustice at the US Capitol and beyond. “I can’t help it. I have to walk in this way. I have a lot of privilege as a white person and a principal in a huge Broadway show. I feel like the least I can do is shout to the rooftops.”

Traveling the country and performing this material as a nonbinary performer is deeply important to McLeod. “It means everything—it truly means the world. This tour is not easy, and this show is not an easy story to tell, but I would not give that up for the world. I think, especially right now, it is such a privilege and honor.”

Being a highly visible nonbinary presence onstage is something that McLeod realizes carries a much greater weight today. “There are so many kids that see the show—teenagers or young people in their early 20s, and even people well into adulthood—who are trans or nonbinary, or simply figuring it out. They see the show and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, I feel seen. I feel like I’m not alone. I feel like I am not wrong in a world that’s telling me I’m wrong and not perfect as I am.”

Still, McLeod assures us that this musical is for everyone. “This show is incredibly human. Everyone on that stage is giving you their heart and soul, and it is a very cathartic show. I think there’s something for everyone to relate to and feel something. It’s a very human experience seeing Jagged Little Pill. If you need to get some stuff out, we’re there to do that for you and to help that empathetic release happen.”

What: Theatre Under the Stars presents Jagged Little Pill
When: August 29–September 10
Where: The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St.
Tickets: my.tuts.com/events

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Zach McKenzie

Zachary McKenzie is a marketing professional and freelance writer in Houston, TX. He received his bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin in 2014 and has lived in Houston since. Zachary is a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and enjoys spending his free time with friends, exploring the richness and diversity of Houston.
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