Waitress Stars Sara Bareilles & Gavin Creel on the Risk of Working with Friends & the Fun of Indulging in Fantasies

Waitress Stars Sara Bareilles & Gavin Creel on the Risk of Working with Friends & the Fun of Indulging in Fantasies
Gavin Creel & Sara Bareilles at the Gramercy Park Hotel (Photograph by Caitlin McNaney for Broadway.com)

If it weren't for Cyndi Lauper, Sara Bareilles and Gavin Creel might have never become friends. Here's the story: Back in 2010, Bareilles and Creel were paired together to perform at a benefit concert for Lauper's True Colors Fund and Broadway Impact and they immediately hit it off. Friendly emails were exchanged over the next few of years and then the two joined together again for a benefit at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA, where Waitress was first developed. They performed the show's number "Bad Idea" and, in the words of Bareilles herself: "I literally fell in love with him." Since falling in friendship-love, they've vacationed together in Hawaii and now they're starring as Jenna Hunterson and Dr. Pomatter in Waitress at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre through February 3. We recently chatted with the two of them at New York City's Gramercy Park Hotel where they opened up about the effects of onstage intimacy, their future career goals and the message they hope their fans take away from their art.

Gavin Creel & Sara Bareilles in Waitress
(Photo by Shervin Lainez)

Seeing you in this show together is such a dream! Where did the idea come from?

SARA: Going into this third year of Waitress, we wanted to do something special to commemorate the launch of this third year. I really was itching to come back, at least for a brief spell, and Gavin was the first call, seeing if he would consider coming in with me for a short stint. And he said yes!

GAVIN: I'll be honest: I was scared at first. My first response was like, 'Are you sure?' When you're great friends with somebody, the friendship is the most important thing, just as important as your art. And I didn't want to create anything that could possibly jeopardize that.

What helped you get over that nervousness?

GAVIN: [points to Sara] Her.

SARA: I also think you're really good communicator. Working with friends is a risk. Sometimes you have great chemistry in your relationship, but it doesn't translate for whatever reason. We're both professionals and we wanted to come to this job doing it well, and then we want to take care of each other as friends on top of that.

Sara Bareilles & Gavin Creel (Photo by Caitlin McNaney for Broadway.com)

As someone who's seen the show with you two in it, I can say that the chemistry does translate. How does it feel to be performing together on that stage?

SARA: For the first couple of shows, I was very heady and trying to ground myself and find my way back into the room, and being with someone who you trust so much, and all of our wonderful company members, I would stare into their eyes and be like, 'Ah! Save me here!' Now I'm feeling more relaxed, it's really fun. [To Gavin] I love how alive your performance is. It's different every time, subtly, but the intention stays intact.

GAVIN: The more you do something, the more relaxed you get. The best thing for me is Sara. Thank God she had done it before because I had all those fears. I feel like I was ushered in in such a generous way.

Performing "Bad Idea" together must be such a blast! It goes from sweet to sexy and then you're thowing each other across that examination table.

SARA: That number is so fun! It's one of the moments where Jenna really gets fired up on the outside. For most of her journey, her spunk is more internal. You see it with the pies and you see it when she's alone, but "Bad Idea" is one of the moments where she can't control herself because she's so flustered by these confusing feelings.

GAVIN: It's also a fun dynamic that I fantasize about playing out, but I'm not, you know, heterosexual [laughs]. That's the best thing about being an actor: you get to play. I get to play out a parallel life with this woman. I would steal her from her boyfriend. No, I wouldn't, I would wait for her to break up with him. And then I would ask her out. We'd have a wonderful courtship and then we would get engaged and then we would marry because I love her. It's really fun to get to do all of those things: the flirting, the courtship, the confusion, the intimacy, the sex, all of it.

Sara Bareilles & Gavin Creel (Photo by Caitlin McNaney for Broadway.com)

Sara, this is your third time playing Jenna on Broadway. Besides having Gavin up there as your Dr. Pomatter, how is it different this time?

SARA: The lesson of theater is that you come to it truthfully and honestly with whatever you have in this moment, and I'm a different person than I was nine months ago, the last time I did the show. It's not even a difference I know how to articulate, but my life circumstances have changed. I'm working on different projects. I might be slightly more distracted, which is informing the character differently. It's so fast and furious. But at the same time, I love that place and those people: that company, that crew, the ushers, these fans... This is one of my favorite places in the entire world. I love getting to go back. I guess I'm just older and more tired.

GAVIN: Which works for the character.

SARA: It does work for a pregnant, depressed...

GAVIN: [Laughs] You are perfect for her.

SARA: I know.

GAVIN: Right now!

SARA: Thank you.

Ever since you wrote this score and became part of the Broadway community, Sara, it seems like your career has shifted. You starred in Jesus Christ Superstar Live and got an Emmy nomination, you hosted the Tony Awards, you wrote a song for SpongeBob SquarePants. You're working on a new album, but how have your dreams and goals changed?

Sara Bareilles in Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert
(Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

SARA: I always describe it as my life falls into two categories, and it's before Waitress and after Waitress. It has literally changed absolutely everything about my life, including the people I know and hold nearest and dearest to me. The professional opportunities that come my way. I think Waitress really expanded my field of vision as to what was possible. It felt completely impossible to begin this process, and then over the course of the last five years of working on the show, I completely fell in love with it. I would go to rehearsals in Times Square with my little binder and my backpack and just be elated. I felt like a little kid, and I was reminded that work can feel as inspired and connected and authentic and exciting as anything you've ever done. I know that's also a very blessed position. Not every project feels that way, but it reminded me that that was possible.

GAVIN: How has it changed your music on the new record?

SARA: The other gift that I got from Waitress was a profound faith in collaboration. So, I went into this record much more open-minded and open-hearted about writing with people, about sharing the creative space with my producer, who, on this record, is T Bone Burnett. It allowed for some really beautiful growth, as an artist, but also with the way the record sounds. It totally feels like me, but it also feels like an evolution of where I've been.

And Gavin, you've had a pretty big couple of years, too. You won a Tony Award for Hello, Dolly!. How did that experience affect what you do for a living and the way you choose projects?

Gavin Creel
(Photo by Emilio Madrid-Kuser for Broadway.com)

GAVIN: Winning is such a silly word for these awards because you didn't run a race, you didn't win. I just got my name called and I got to make a speech. That was the only one reason I wanted to win. I wanted to stand up and say something for 30 seconds. But it's making me realize my age and the time I have left. Hopefully, if I'm lucky, I'll get another few decades out of this business. So, saying yes to a project like Waitress is like..when am I ever going to get the opportunity to work with a friend on something that is so dear to her and to me. I want to chase projects that excite me. If they're not fun or they're not stimulating me creatively, I'm not going to go after them.

This musical was crafted by a team of women and when it came time to promote the show, the producers led with that story and put it front and center, which was so refreshing and so necessary. Sara, how has this experience influenced what you'll work on and who you'll collaborate with in the future?

SARA: It just happened to be that we were all women working at the top of our field and got paired together and found each other. It was really late in the process when we looked around and were like, 'Oh, this is the first time this has happened in a musical.' It was thrilling to look around at department heads and have them be women. That's unusual, certainly for someone working in the music industry, but that's changing. We get to be examples for young book writers, choreographers, music directors, composers, directors, and we get to be examples of another way it can look in the world. It definitely made me look at my hiring practices, and pay attention to things that never bothered me before. Now, when I see a woman singing with an all-male band, which I've done my entire career, you know? Not exclusively, but I love the guys I work with. It just made me think about why aren't there any women on my tours? Why am I the only girl here? Oh, that's a choice I'm making. And I don't have to keep making that choice.

Sara Bareilles & Gavin Creel (Photo by Caitlin McNaney for Broadway.com)

In her letter to her baby, Jenna hopes that she becomes addicted to saying things and that they matter. What is your message that you hope matters to people?

SARA: I think it's right there. It's that you matter. You matter! You matter. Your perspectives matter. Your voice is important. If it's not been heard, keep talking. There are people who want to listen and to hear your story.

GAVIN: Have fun. Seek and follow the things that give you bliss. Go and get your fun on, you know? There's a lot of really magical stuff out there, and there are magical people out there to meet. Be kind. What does Ellen [DeGeneres] say?

SARA: Be kind to each other.

GAVIN: Be kind to each other. And that's something we should all hear. If you do matter and you want to have fun, be kind. Good night!

SARA: [Laughs] We should put that on a bumper sticker.

GAVIN: You'd have to take up the entire back bumper!

SARA: It just rolls off the tongue! You're allowed to have fun. Also be kind. Trademarked.

Photos by Caitlin McNaney for Broadway.com | Styling: Heather Newberger | Grooming: Angella Valentine | Video Directed by Jim Cocoliato | Location: Gramercy Park Hotel

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