Five-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles told Rolling Stone that writing the music and lyrics for the hit Broadway musical Waitress has been the happiest mistake of her career. Bareilles, who grew up in Eureka, California, has admitted that she was not exposed to many Broadway shows as a child. Between tight finances and the travel necessary to get to New York City, Bareilles instead immersed herself in cast recordings and fantasized about Broadway. As an adult, she has always been an outspoken fan of the art form. And now Bareilles is a permanent member of the community as a Tony nominee for her work as composer and lyricist for Waitress.
Waitress holds the distinction as the only musical of the season to be nominated for every Best Musical award and is up for four Tony Awards on Sunday including Bareilles’ nomination for Best Original Score.
Bareilles’ road to Broadway was not without its effort. After several years of collaborating with director Diane Paulus and book writer Jessie Nelson, Waitress opened on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on April 24. The musical tells the story of a diner waitress named Jenna, who is stuck in a loveless marriage and dead-end career and discovers she’s pregnant and the unexpected series of events that follow.
The production, led by Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller as the title character, marks the first time an all-female team has collaborated for a musical. Bareilles has been adamant on the authenticity of the creative team, saying that it wasn’t intentional or planned that Waitress would be orchestrated by an all-female creative team. Instead, Bareilles confirms that the musical found the most talented, best-suited creative minds for the project and it was a coincidence that they were all female.
But Waitress isn’t a ‘chick flick’ on stage. Much like the earnestly funny, emotionally-charged 2007 film by Adrienne Shelly, there is tremendous honesty and heart, which shows so effortlessly through Bareilles’ music. There are no wasted lyrics and even the show’s sillier songs, including “Never Getting Rid of Me” and “I Love You Like a Table,” which are both performed by three-time Tony nominee Chris Fitzgerald, speak to the story.
While “She Used to Be Mine”, the show-stopping 11 o’clock number sung by Mueller, is a work of art which stands on its own merit as a powerful ballad about Jenna’s sadness and regret from losing herself in a life she never wanted, the song “A Soft Place to Land” is worthy of attention. The powerful Act I song features Jenna, Becky (Tony nominee Keala Settle), and Dawn (Kimiko Glenn) as they bake a pie together. With its simple choreography and staging with the three women moving gracefully around center stage, the lyrics carry the scene and set the dramatic, heart-wrenching moment.
It’s easy to see just how much Bareilles cared about creating Waitress when looking at the song “What Baking Can Do,” which replaced the song “Door Number Three” for the Broadway production. But, thankfully, “Door Number Three” can still be heard on Bareilles’ original concept album for the score. By eliminating “Door Number Three,” which existed in the pre-Broadway production at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., and writing “What Baking Can Do” in its place, Bareilles sacrificed a catchy, audience-favorite number in favor of a more soulful, though just as enjoyable song that delves much deeper into Jenna’s psyche and her love for pie-making.
But it’s not just sugar, butter, and flour for Bareilles, who had the distinction of serving as the entrance music for Hillary Clinton as she took the stage on Tuesday night and addressed the nation as the presumptive Democratic candidate for President. Many were quick to recognize how the booming, energizing lyrics to Bareilles’ hit song “Brave”, which was written in support of a friend’s coming out struggle, enhanced the historic moment.
Bareilles also recently emerged from being “under the sea” as Ariel in the Hollywood Bowl production of The Little Mermaid. Although she only played the role for two evenings, on June 3 and 4, her performance and the semi-staged musical itself received rave reviews. Seeing video of Bareilles as Ariel sparked the reminder of her now-famous “#SugarButterStall” performance at Waitress, during which Bareilles took to the stage prior to the preview performance on March 30 and sang songs from the beloved Disney movie while the tech crew fixed a glitch before the performance.
Waitress won’t be Bareilles’ only Broadway musical for long. She contributed to the development of the new SpongeBob SquarePants musical as one of the featured composers and lyricists. Although there isn’t any information available about Bareilles’ song, and much about the production is being kept quiet, fans can expect to hear her signature blend of powerful lyrics and a catchy pop sound.
In the song “Vegas”, featured on Bareilles’ second album titled Little Voice, she writes the lyrics, “[Gonna] move to New York and tattoo my body with every Broadway show.” Bareilles has done just that and more by immersing herself in the theatre culture in New York, becoming an indelible part of the community she always aspired to be part of, and even taking it a step further by writing one of the most beautiful, honest musicals ever on a Broadway stage. Whether she takes home a Tony on Sunday, there is no question that Waitress – and Bareilles – matter to Broadway.