Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Sara Bareillis wrote the music for the hit musical Waitress. Broadway in Cincinnati caught up with her in New York in January 2017.
Broadway in Cincinnati: How did you get involved in this project? Had writing music for the stage been something you’d always wanted to do?
Sara Barellis: I actually never thought about writing music for a Broadway show. I always imagined myself as a performer. I did a little community theater growing up. So when I imagined myself down the road I always thought I would be a theater performer, and then my life took a different turn. But when I moved to New York, I reached out to my agent and wanted to suss out if there were opportunities for me in the theater – perhaps as a performer – and then this presented itself and I sort of said yes on a whim. I didn’t know what I was saying yes to and it’s been life changing.
BiC: What was it like to be a part of such an incredible – and all-female – creative team? That doesn’t happen often.
SB: I don’t think we knew that it was groundbreaking at the time, because it wasn’t really a decision to specifically choose women for these roles – which is why I feel so proud that it happened organically. We were just the right people for these positions, and I always really love thinking about the next generation of young women who want to see themselves in jobs as theater directors and composers and writers and choreographers. It’s very gratifying to imagine the impact this might have on someone.
BiC: What about the original movie Waitress resonated with you and made you want to write the music for this?
SB: When I watched Adrienne Shelley’s film, I came away with such a sense of her humanity, and I loved that it was ‘messy.’ I loved that the world she created was not made of black and white, heroes and villains. There is basically no one in this show who is all one thing or the other, and that feels like an honest reflection of life to me. So it was nice to get to try to carve out a deeper sense of soulful storytelling on the characters’ behalf with music in a way that spoke to that. It’s complicated – which felt very human to me, and I love that.
BiC: How does writing for the stage differ from what you’ve done as a recording artist?
SB: What I love about writing for the stage is that it’s all about the character and the storytelling. Progressing the story and getting information across, but doing it in a way that is true to the character’s essence. As someone who has been brought up as a pop writer, I think sometimes it’s easy to fall into certain patterns. But for me stepping into the theater was like: Oh the gloves are off. There are no rules. You can kind of do anything, so it was very liberating and playful. I so enjoyed getting the puzzle of it. You get a short amount of time to deliver a lot of information or to deepen a relationship. It was all about putting the puzzle pieces together and that was really fun. Really hard, but really fun.
BiC: Is there a particular moment when you can tell the audience is with you, investing in the characters?
SB: I love this show because there are a lot of those mile markers throughout the show. One of the moments that comes to my mind is when you meet Ogie, who is sort of our lovable clown. He doesn’t come on stage until about 50 minutes into the show but he provides such comic relief and you feel the audience get buoyed up by his joy and his guilelessness. I love that moment because you know that they’ve gone to a deeper place just prior, and they’re relieved for the release of the tension. It means they’ve been invested in the characters’ journey, which I love.
BiC: What is your favorite song in the show, and what song was hardest to write?
SB: The hardest song by far was the opening number. I rewrote it 195 times and when we finally got it, I was in tears. We were in this tiny little backstage music director’s room and everyone’s piled in there and I’m like: Is this it? And Diane [Paulus], our director, was like: YES! And I was like: Oh my gosh!
My favorite song to write I think was “She Used to be Mine.” It was the first song I wrote and it was my portal into the world of Waitress. It was me actively falling in love with this character and seeing so much of my story reflected in hers, even though our circumstances are very different. That song remains incredibly special to me.
BiC: Do you want to write more for the stage?
SB: I would love to do more shows. Going to the theater has been a great love of my life from childhood. So now being a part of a team that’s creating one of these experiences is deeply gratifying. I know better now how much time it takes and so I will think about that next time, but I’m hooked. I loved it and felt so warmly embraced by the community at large and I feel undyingly grateful for that so I would love to continue to get to lend whatever I can to this medium.
BiC: Who are you seeing in the audience of Waitress?
SB: There are a lot of mothers and daughters, and our story is about a soon-to-be mother and her relationship to her friends, so there are a lot of sisters and friends. But there are a lot of men too and a lot of young people, which I love. I interviewed every kind of audience member that I could find and they all came out saying they were surprised by the journey that they went on. And the thing that I found the most gratifying was that they all came away feeling like they’d been taken on an emotional journey. They didn’t know they were going to laugh so much and they didn’t know that they were going to cry. The story we’re telling is a really heartfelt one and there’s something in there for everybody.
BiC: Why do you think people should see this show?
SB: I really think people will enjoy this musical. There’s a lot of humor. There’s a lot of heart. I personally think the music is really good. <laughs> It’s a small show and we’re a small team, and we took great care in putting the show together and crafting the right cast and crew and band. It’s a painstaking process but it’s done with so much love.
About the Show
Brought to life by a groundbreaking all-female creative team, this irresistible new hit features original music and lyrics by 6-time Grammy® nominee Sara Bareilles (“Brave,” “Love Song”). Inspired by Adrienne Shelly’s beloved film, Waitress tells the story of Jenna, a waitress and expert pie maker who dreams of a way out of her small town and loveless marriage. A baking contest in a nearby county and the town’s new doctor may offer her a chance at a fresh start, while her fellow waitresses offer their own recipes for happiness. But Jenna must summon the strength and courage to rebuild her own life. Don’t miss this uplifting musical celebrating friendship, motherhood, and the magic of a well-made pie.