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Broadway Q&A: Sara Bareilles of 'Waitress'

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

The Grammy and Tony nominee shares her love of musicals

Before she was selling millions of albums worldwide, Sara Bareilles grew up performing in community theater and listening to musicals. When she had an opportunity to write the music and lyrics for the musical Waitress, she jumped at the chance. Inspired by Adrienne Shelly’s cherished film, Waitress centers around Jenna, an ace pie maker who longs to escape her abusive marriage and discover the courage to live life on her own terms. Waitress was nominated for four Tony awards, including Best Musical. Currently Bareilles is playing Jenna on Broadway, through Feb. 3rd only, opposite her good pal Gavin Creel

Sara Bareilles has returned to the role of Jenna in ‘Waitress’ (Photo: Josh Lehrer)

Sara Bareilles has returned to the role of Jenna in ‘Waitress’ (Photo: Josh Lehrer)

What is the joy of working on Waitress
Sara Bareilles
: The joy is endless. It has been an incredible journey and a lot of discovery for me, especially stepping into a new medium that is near and dear to my heart. I grew up listening to and performing in musical theater and community theater. So in a way, it’s actually been an interesting homecoming for me. I’m working in a medium that felt familiar in this very wholesome, familial way. Then the collaboration has been so deeply satisfying. Coming together and working as part of a team, as opposed to a solo artist, is deeply satisfying. I’ve learned so much from that as well. 

Pies are so important in the show. What is your connection with pie? 
: There’s a scene in the show where Jenna is making a blackberry pie. I made blackberry pies with my mom growing up. We had wild blackberry bushes, Himalayan blackberries. And we would go out and take our big, silver bowls from the kitchen. And we would fill them with blackberries. It was a soulful childhood memory for me of something I did with my mom. I remember rolling out the crust. Adding sugar to the top. Waiting for it to cool so you could cut it and not break the crust. These were things that were part of my childhood. Maybe I was subconsciously drawn to that. But there definitely is a maternal relationship that I feel with this show. I feel like I’m birthing a baby. My mom’s in here. It’s a show about mothers and daughters, too. 

What does singing give you? 
: Singing is my church. That is my experience of God. It showed up for me very early in my life. It’s what I think I’m here to do. 

The songs in Waitress are so beautiful. What advice would you give to someone who has a dream to create someone new? 
: The great advice that I’ve gotten is always about getting your ego out of the room and really serving the work, whatever that is. Whether it’s launching a company or creating a story or making a record. The important thing is to be vigilant about protecting and supporting what is best for the work.

How did you do that with Waitress
: Writing songs, generally as a pop artist, is a very insular experience, and theater is deeply collaborative. I had to rewrite songs so many times. It would infuriate me and make me feel crazy. But ultimately, what I was being asked to do was dive in deeper on behalf of the work. I made peace with that, and began to understand what I was aiming for was something that was truer and a better fit for what we were making together. Then something magical would unfold. Something new would emerge. I rewrote the opening number about 45 times. It’s hard to separate yourself and your experience as creator from the thing you’re making. But know that your purpose is to serve the thing you’re making. Try to get out of the way of that.

What was the first Broadway show you ever saw? 
: On Broadway, (it) was not that long ago. It was Hair, and it was actually directed by Diane Paulus (who directed Waitress). It was the revival of Hair.  But the first Broadway tour I ever saw was Secret Garden. I was probably 12 years old, or 13 years old, and that was in San Francisco. That was a National Tour. I lived in a tiny little town and I never went to New York until I was well into my 20s.

What did you think of Hair
: I was mesmerized. It was incredible. Seeing something on that scale and that caliber of talent taking the stage was so interesting to me. Just the intimacy and grandeur of the experience that were coinciding. It felt like they were speaking directly to you. But you also felt like you were experiencing this thing that was larger than life. It was really magical.


For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in February 2019.


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