Sara Bareilles
Sara Bareilles

Sara Bareilles on Her Journey to the Tony Awards and the Tribeca Film Festival

When you go into the woods, the path is clear. But Sara Bareilles says she made a “left turn” somewhere along her route toward Broadway.

“There’s something especially poignant about this path,” the singer, songwriter, and now Tony Award–nominated actress for the latest revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods told Broadway Direct. “This actually was my childhood dream. I was involved in musical theater as a child. There’s this wonderful sense of homecoming that feels like it’s kind of embedded into this time. All of those years of having taken a different path is great fodder for insecurity in terms of me having faith in myself being able to do this. Every chance I’ve gotten to step on stage as an actor, and as an interpreter, really speaks to my inner child, in a way.”

Bareilles made her Broadway debut as the musical composer and lyricist for Waitress, which opened on Broadway in 2016 starring Jessie Mueller as Jenna. Bareilles later took over the role as one of the countless replacements over the years and proved she belonged on the stage. In 2018, Bareilles starred on NBC Live’s Jesus Christ Superstar as Mary Magdalene. (Fun fact: Micaela Diamond, Bareilles’s fellow nominee for leading actress in a musical, for Parade, was in the Superstar ensemble.) That same year, she cohosted the Tony Awards with Josh Groban (also nominated this year for Sweeney Todd).

Sara Bareilles and Brian d'Arcy James in Into the Woods. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.
Sara Bareilles and Brian d’Arcy James in Into the Woods. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

About a year ago, she was asked to play The Baker’s Wife in New York City Center’s Encores production of Into the Woods. In order to do what was expected to be a two-week run, she had to move around filming the TV show Girls5Eva. “Blissfully, it bloomed into this completely different animal,” she said of the revival that transferred to Broadway at the St. James Theatre. “Thankfully, it became this kind of lightning in a bottle.”

She feels one reason it was so successful, and why it’s currently touring the country, is because “there was so much magic attached to the company, in the story itself, and being retold in this moment. And [there was] this sort of analog production of it that was putting the orchestra front and center and not leaning on any sort of high production value. It was all about performances and an impeccable cast that made it a really special experience.”

Bareilles’ Into the Woods costar Julia Lester, who is Tony-nominated for her portrayal of Little Red, had always idolized her. “The saying goes, ‘Never meet your idols.’ But I’m so thankful that I met her because she is everything I thought she would be and more,” Lester previously said to Broadway Direct. “She is a true leading lady.”

“It wasn’t until, I think, the Broadway run where [Lester] took a moment to tell me how much my work meant to her,” Bareilles recalled of the conversation while in turn gushing accolades about Lester. “I’m sure people say this about her all the time. She has such wisdom. She is an old soul. She’s so smart and so professional and so grounded.”

On Sunday, June 11, Bareilles will attend the Tony Awards, with the cast of Into the Woods expected to perform, and the following evening is another big night for Bareilles: the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of Waitress: The Musical – Live on Broadway!, the highly-anticipated live film recording of the Broadway musical.

Waitress played at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre (newly renamed the Lena Horne Theatre) from April 2016 to January 2020. When Broadway resumed performances, Waitress made a return to Broadway, becoming the first musical to reopen after the Broadway shutdown, beginning performances in September 2021 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, across the street from the show’s previous Broadway home.

“We got this unbelievable opportunity when we knew we could remount the show,” Bareilles said of unexpectedly bringing Waitress back to Broadway. “We had a conversation that we wanted to be able to use this opportunity to capture the life of the show at this moment. It was very meaningful to be one of the first shows that opened. It was like water in the desert, for the audience and for the company and the band. Our livelihood was given back to us.” The film version of the beloved musical was long hinted at on social media, with production taking place in fall 2021.

Charity Angél Dawson, Sara Bareilles, and Caitlin Houlahan in Waitress: The Musical – Live on Broadway!
Charity Angél Dawson, Sara Bareilles, and Caitlin Houlahan in Waitress: The Musical – Live on Broadway!

Cast members from the original Broadway run came back to star in the show with Bareilles, Charity Angél Dawson, Caitlin Houlahan, Drew Gehling, Dakin Matthews, Eric Anderson, Joe Tippett, and Christopher Fitzgerald leading the company of the live recording.

Based on the 2007 motion picture written by Adrienne Shelly, Waitress is the first Broadway musical in history to have four women in the four top creative team spots. In addition to the music and lyrics by Bareilles, the book is by Jessie Nelson, choreography is by Lorin Latarro, and it’s directed by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus.

Waitress tells the story of Jenna, a waitress and expert pie maker stuck in a small town and a loveless marriage. When a baking contest in a nearby county offers her a chance at escape, Jenna fights to reclaim a long-forgotten part of herself.

Bareilles describes the new film of the musical as “an intimate experience of the show.” She says there are proscenium shots “where you’re getting a sense of just where you might be seated in the back of the house. But we were really trying to use the film medium to bring you closer to the story and closer to the character.”

And for what may be the first time in history, the taped musical will stream live in Times Square on an 18,000-square-foot digital screen. Three hundred seats will be available in Times Square on a first-come, first-served basis for the 7:30 p.m. screening on Monday, June 12. This event is presented by the Tribeca Festival in association with the Times Square Alliance and TSX Entertainment.

“Honestly, thank you to the Times Square Alliance and the city that wants to showcase these extraordinary efforts by their artists to make something that matters,” Bareilles said of the incredible exposure of a Broadway musical.