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Sara Bareilles on Waitress, songwriting and Broadway's first all-female creative team

By Dana Varinsky
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Sara Bareilles has released seven albums and been nominated for five Grammys, but now she’s trying something totally new: composing songs for someone else to perform.

Bareilles wrote the music and lyrics for the new musical Waitress, which is currently in previews at the 
Brooks Atkinson Theatre. That task, she said, demanded a level of teamwork she’d never encountered as a solo artist.

“This is like being part of an orchestra,” she explains. “I tend to be very precious about my songs and don’t want to share them until they’re exactly what I want. But in this form, it actually made sense to write a verse and a chorus and take it to the group to get an idea of feedback. It’s a much more fluid creative process.”

The musical is based on the eponymous 2007 film, which starred Keri Russell as a small-town waitress and amateur baker who finds herself pregnant and in an unhappy marriage. Onstage, the adaptation can’t feature the gleaming, flour-filled pie porn that served as the movie’s core motif. But the protagonist’s quest to find independence and meaningful relationships does lend itself to Bareilles’s plucky, lyric-driven sound.

“I tried to be very mindful of not putting on any sort of stylistic constraints,” she says. “I wasn’t trying to write musical theater songs—I was really trying to sincerely write from my own stylistic sensibilities.”

Those songs are being brought to the stage by a highly talented team: Jessie Mueller, who won a Tony in 2014 for her portrayal of ’60s songwriter Carole King in Beautiful, stars as Jenna. The show’s director, Diane Paulus, took home a Tony for her 2013 production of Pippin, choreographer Lorin Latarro was behind the immersive theater production Queen of the Night, and writer Jessie Nelson penned the screenplays for I Am Sam 
and Stepmom.

Together, the women form the first all-female creative team in Broadway history. But Bareilles says she’s not overly focused on that aspect of the show.

“I don’t see them as, Oh, we’re an all-girl team. We just happen to be creatives who all happen to be women,” she says. “I think we’re the right people for this job. But I’m happy to get a chance to hopefully inspire other young composers out there who want to write for theater or want to write in any capacity.”

Though Bareilles says she’d like to do this sort of project again in the future, her next steps after Waitress are to take a “big, fat vacation” and then begin work on a new record.

“I just feel liberated in my approach because I got the chance to kind of flex the muscle of writing stylistically in so many different directions,” she says. “So for me, I think the gloves are off a little bit.”

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