Bareilles serves up new Broadway musical

The Waitress musical (above) is penned by Sara Bareilles.
The Waitress musical (above) is penned by Sara Bareilles.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES
The Waitress musical is penned by Sara Bareilles (above).
The Waitress musical is penned by Sara Bareilles (above).PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

NEW YORK • Waitress, the new Broadway musical based on the 2007 indie movie, is not your typical love story.

Set in the South, the plot swirls around a diner waitress and expert pie-baker named Jenna who, mired in a loveless marriage to an abusive husband and unexpectedly pregnant with his child, embarks on a torrid love affair with her married gynaecologist.

Then again, Sara Bareilles is not your traditional Broadway composer.

She is the singer-songwriter behind piano-driven hits such as Love Song and Brave, who earlier this month played what she - self- deprecatingly - calls her "mid-tempo ballads" at a White House state dinner honouring Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But she is also part of a new twist in musical theatre, one of a handful of female singer-songwriters attempting to make the leap to Broadway songsmith, along with Edie Brickell, Sheryl Crow, Susan Werner and Erin McKeown.

In a career that has brought her a No. 1 album, five Grammy nominations and a celebrity judgeship on the NBC a cappella competition, The Sing-Off, Bareilles, 36, said she has never felt such a sense of reward working on the project.

"Some of that is related to the sheer man-hours that it's required of me," she said. "I've never worked on anything this hard, and this long, and this sincerely."

The road to Broadway for Waitress, which opens on April 24 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, has taken nine years and cost US$12 million (S$16.3 million).

Producers Barry and Fran Weissler picked up the theatrical rights to the Adrienne Shelly movie just after its release in 2007, seeing a mix of feminist fable and romantic fairy tale in it that could resonate with women, who drive Broadway sales.

Director Diane Paulus put together a wish list of songwriters who had never written for the musical theatre. The first slot belonged to Bareilles. Paulus never talked to anyone else.

In her songs, Paulus saw both range and a storyteller's craft - Gravity being "a personal, deeply searing heartache of a song" while King Of Anything was "spunky with lyrical twists".

Bareilles' recording and touring career has remained more robust than that of others, but she was ready for a change.

Musical theatre, she told her agents, was something she would like to explore. She had not seen the movie, but its quirkiness - and the untraditional love story at its heart - appealed to her.

"It's actually about a woman seeking to feel like she's worthwhile in the world," she said.

"So her being seen, truly seen by her love interest, is more about her feeling she matters to the world than just hearing, 'I love you and want to run away with you'."

Soon, Bareilles was immersed in the unfamiliar world of creating a Broadway musical: Telling other people's stories, rather than her own; writing for multiple characters, sometimes within the same song; crafting musical transitions between scenes.

"It's kind of a free-for-all," she said. "The sky's the limit, in a really great way."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2016, with the headline 'Bareilles serves up new Broadway musical'. Print Edition | Subscribe