Most people know Sara Bareilles as the singer-songwriter force behind pop hits like “Love Song" and "Brave."
But the Northern California native has been getting a lot of attention lately for her work in musicals — notably “Waitress.”
The Tony and Grammy Award-nominated composer’s Broadway musical is based on the 2007 film of the same title. It's about an unhappily married pregnant woman, Jenna Hunterson, who dreams of opening her own pie shop.
KQED’s Chloe Veltman sat down with Bareilles at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre to talk about the show.
“Waitress” opens there Oct. 16 as part of a national tour.
Listen to an edited version of their conversation by clicking the play button above. And read on for a few additional highlights:
What draws you to musical theater?
I have always been very drawn to the storytelling of musical theater. I loved the character study of it. Just diving into the depths of the character and their inner thoughts and feelings.
What was it about the 2007 movie "Waitress" that inspired you to join the musical's creative team as a composer and lyricist?
Adrienne Shelly, who is the writer/director of that film, created such a little gem. It's funny. It's quirky. It's dark. The subject matter is uncomfortable at times, and somehow she still created this really quite musical world. The characters are all really eccentric. I felt like they were also human, because they weren't perfect. And so I liked the idea of getting to dive into their psychology, and try to tease that out a little bit with songs.
The movie is set in a small town in the Deep South, as is the musical. How much did your own upbringing in Eureka inform your work on the musical?
I can relate to the idea of coming from a community — the good and the bad of that. The people who really want the best for you, and also the people who think they know what's best for you, when they don't. So I sort of understand that it's delicate, the dance that you do when you're trying to sort of find yourself in a small town. Luckily Jenna, our lead character, she has an incredible community, wonderful friends and some new strangers that come through town that cause all sorts of mayhem.
You have a bunch of brilliant comic songs in the musical, like the number about pregnancy, "Club Knocked Up." But below the levity of these songs, like this one, is some really dark stuff. Why is it important that the musical walks the line between humor and heaviness?
I think that's, for me, what it means to be alive. It's the darkness and light, you know, the yin and yang. We don't have all one thing or the other. And I think that's one of the things that actually allows people to process dark matter, is if they're given a little bit of buoyancy, you know, along the way.
I've read that you identify closely with the main character, Jenna.
I just fell head over heels in love with this woman. I love that she's so imperfect. You know she didn't want the child, and she's in a messed-up marriage, and that she doesn't have it all figured out. I really loved that we were given a chance to get to know a heroine who's not — no offense to Wonder Woman — but, like, who's not Wonder Woman. Who just lives amongst the rest of us a little bit more.
But how does that relate to your life and your sense of identification with her?
Oh, because I'm a total mess most of the time. That's really what it comes down to.
In some ways, "Waitress" sends this strong feminist message. Jenna takes control of her career and her love life. But to what degree do you think the musical’s storyline ends up reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes? After all, the kindness of one wealthy male character, Old Joe, plays a big role in helping Jenna overcome some of her challenges.
We've talked about making him “Old Josephine.” You know, I don't think there's anything that's off the table in terms of re-imagining how these sort of patriarchal “stereotypes” run through. But I also think there are good men out there as well. And I don't think you need to jettison the male point of view to tell feminist stories.
Sara Bareilles’ Broadway musical “Waitress” plays on tour at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theater Oct. 16 - Nov. 11, 2018. You can find out more about the show here.