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Sara Bareilles, 2019
© Shervin Lainez

Sara Bareilles: ‘I can pretend to make a pie like you wouldn’t believe’

The US pop star took a career break to write a musical. The result was pie-tastic Broadway smash ‘Waitress’

By Andrzej Lukowski

A few years ago, seven-times-Grammy-nominated Californian singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles found herself bored with the pop game. So she wrote the songs for ‘Waitress’, a musical theatre adaptation of the late Adrienne Shelly’s cult 2007 indie film about Jenna, a smalltown waitress and champion piemaker who dreams of escaping from her abusive husband. Directed by Broadway royalty Diane Paulus, the show was a huge smash across the pond – and now it’s coming to serve a slice to London.

How did you end up writing a Broadway musical?

‘I’d moved to New York from LA and I was burnt out. I was tired of the pop artist cycle of write a record, record it, tour it, go home, write a record, record it, tour. So I was just looking for a project that would be different, and I thought maybe there would be an opportunity to be on stage. But then I had lunch with Diane Paulus and she told me about the movie and that she wanted to direct a musical. I went home and watched it, and within a couple of weeks of just chewing on this idea I wrote “She Used to Be Mine”, which I sent to Diane and was the first song I wrote for the show.’

Did you like the film?

‘I really liked it – it felt homemade to me, it wasn’t this big blockbuster. I felt like I could see the people, the messiness, that Adrienne Shelly created. I really responded to the fact there were no clear-cut heroes and villains; just messy people making mistakes and assholes who have suffered a lot of pain. I like that it wasn’t traditional.’

Were you confident you could write a musical?

‘I remember having an explicit conversation with Diane saying, “I don’t know if I can do this, but I’d like to try. If it’s not going well, we’ll just shake hands and I’ll move on.” It’s intimidating, the sheer amount of work. But that’s the beauty of collaboration. Also I didn’t know when I’d made a mistake because I didn’t know what I was doing!’

‘Waitress’ is the only new Broadway show from 2015 apart from ‘Hamilton’ still standing, and now you’re coming over here – that must be nice.

‘It’s just a frickin’ pinch-me crazy fantasy. When we opened on Broadway I had my fingers and toes crossed: please let us run for a year and not be crawling over the finish line. Now to have been there three years and to be coming to the West End feels like more than I could have possibly dreamed.’

You did a stint playing Jenna on Broadway. How was that?

‘I was just fucking terrified. But yet again the show has given me an opportunity to do something that made me feel courageous.’

How do you feel about pies now?

’You know, it’s funny, you don’t eat as much pie in the role as you think you would. But I can now pretend to make a blackberry pie like you wouldn’t believe.’

‘Waitress’ is at the Adelphi Theatre until Oct 19.

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