Interview with Sara Bareilles
Are you excited that the show is embarking on a UK tour?
Absolutely, it’s my pride and joy. I grew up in a small town and I couldn’t get to Broadway, so I was reliant on the theatres close to me. That’s where I was introduced to musical theatre, which has become one of the great loves of my life, so I love that we now get to take this show to new places that might not have seen it before.
How would you describe the show, for the uninitiated?
It’s got something for everyone. I think there’s a preconception that it’s a very female-driven show, which to some extent it is, but there are also lots of great male characters. It’s universally enjoyable, very funny but also very moving and relatable.
How did you get involved with Waitress initially?
I got a call from my theatrical agent in New York, who said the director, Diane Paulus, was interested in meeting. So I had lunch with her and she told me about the show, which I was unfamiliar with at that time. It’s based on a film by an incredible woman called Adrienne Shelley, who is sadly no longer with us, and Diane was very passionate about telling her story as a musical. So I immediately jumped on board and a few years later we were opening on Broadway.
Did you ever imagine back then that it would make such a big impact?
I didn’t even know enough to dream beyond the final construction of the piece. Writing a musical is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. It’s so complicated, with so many revisions, and it’s easy to lose sight of the finish line. So I was just so happy and proud that we got off the runway, everything else was a bonus.
“The fan community is off the charts”
Could you tell us about the main character, Jenna?
Jenna’s an extraordinary pie-maker who lives in a small town in southern Indiana. She’s in an abusive marriage and gets pregnant, but doesn’t want the baby. Over the course of the show we see her encounter an unlikely new relationship, and also develop her friendships within the diner and the community. She goes on a soul-searching journey and learns to love herself. She’s a really interesting, complicated character that a lot of people can relate to.
You have played her yourself, on Broadway and in the West End. How did you find that experience?
It was incredible. It’s a real honour to get to tell this story from the inside out, and to join such a wonderful cast and crew to bring the show to life every night in such a whole-hearted way. Telling this story and playing this role has been one of the biggest privileges of my artistic life.
Do you think musicals, Waitress and Dear Evan Hansen being prime examples, are increasingly exploring deeper themes?
Yeah, I think the trend overall in media in general is towards more human stories. I know that I’m really drawn to things that have a deep emotional content. It’s challenging but also really rewarding to discuss things that are difficult through music. It’s a cathartic and healing way to explore these issues.
It must have been very gratifying to see the fan base the show has established?
The fan community is off the charts! It’s such a beautiful reflection of this story that so many people are finding themselves inside it and it’s resonating on a deep level. You never know how something you create is going to be received, so to have it be embraced in this way has just been awesome.
You are no stranger to touring yourself as a singer. Do you enjoy life on the road?
What makes it so special is that you get to see lots of new places, but through the lens of sharing art. That is a very particular way to move through the world, and you get to encounter so many different people. I find humans fascinating, especially in their natural habitat! I’m also a foodie so I love hunting down great new restaurants and cafes.
Speaking of food, has Waitress increased your love of baked goods?
I’ve always been a lover of baked goods, though you have to be careful as all that sugar is not very good for your singing voice. Fortunately Jenna doesn’t eat too many pies herself, she only makes them. Henry Bird from The Great British Bake Off is a fan of the show, which is really cool.
“I love songwriters who tell stories”
Have you always had a passion for music?
My older sister was a singer and my mum was in theatre, so music was always in the house. I was a songbird and would spend hours at the piano, playing by ear. I love songwriters who tell stories, like Elton John, Carole King, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, Bob Marley or Ray Charles. I love to lose myself in the lyrics.
What are you working on currently? Could another musical be on the cards?
I would love to write another musical at some point, though now I know how much time it takes I will need to be discerning before saying yes! More immediately I’m executive producing a show that is going to air this summer on Apple TV called Little Voice, which was the title of my first album. It’s about a young songwriter in New York.
For anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps as a singer/songwriter, what advice would you give them?
I’m a real believer in the 10,000 hours theory. It takes the doing to understand how to do. So for any young songwriters or actors or creators out there, I’d say the more you do and the more you make, the more you will understand yourself as an artist. I played literally hundreds of show before I signed a record deal, but that was so important to my creative development.
Do you consider yourself an Anglophile?
I love the UK! There’s a beautiful spirit here, and a real dedication to the arts that I’m really appreciative of. I think there’s an especially strong understanding of and reverence for theatre that I find really refreshing. You won’t find that everywhere.
‘Waitress’ comes to Hull New Theatre, Feb 8-13, 2021