Sara Bareilles talks about writing the score to ‘Waitress’

Updated October 6, 2018 - 7:40 pm

She describes it as an exercise in radical empathy, the art of finding the humanity in a man who’s lost touch with the very thing she seeks to articulate.

Singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles is on the line, explaining the process of giving an abusive husband his voice in song.

The number is “You Will Still Be Mine,” the first thing Bareilles wrote when creating the score for “Waitress.” The hit musical, based on the acclaimed 2007 indie film of the same name starring Keri Russell, opens an eight-show run Tuesday at The Smith Center.

The storyline centers around the titular diner worker and ace pie maker Jenna, who spends her days gasping for air in an emotionally suffocating marriage with husband Earl, dreaming of escape by reaping the rewards of a pie-making contest in hopes of starting a new life.

Earl is the kind of guy who demands fealty, not content merely to keep his canary in her cage, but also insisting that she chirp along to the tune of his tough love.

Early in the play, Jenna finds out she’s pregnant, and when Earl eventually discovers the news, he makes Jenna promise to love him more than their forthcoming baby.

“These are the ties that bind,” Earl sings on “Mine,” cinching those ties shut.

‘Doing the best they can’

The point of the song is to help us understand someone who doesn’t understand himself — “us” including the woman who penned it.

“It was a really interesting thing,” the 38-year-old Bareilles explains of delving into characters’ mindsets. “You’re trying to find your way into the psychology of people who may not, on the outside, appear to relate to you very much.”

But that’s the thing about “Waitress”: Its defining trait is relatability.

At its core, “Waitress” is a story about something that most everyone has felt at some point: the intense yearning that comes with wanting more from life, of knowing deep down there’s more for you out there, somewhere.

In the beginning, Jenna attempts to make a sort of bitter peace with what she thinks is her lot in life.

But “Waitress” chronicles her journey, from a begrudging acceptance to a stubborn refusal to settle for anything less than real fulfillment. Even when the temptations are many, including a hunky, new-to-town doctor who offers a temporary respite from Jenna’s doldrums.

It’s a beautiful, messy, empowering and very human experience.

“I love that there are no real heroes or villains,” Bareilles says. “Even our main characters are making mistakes, sort of doing the best they can, and we love them in spite of that. I love that we get to make a show about someone who isn’t perfect, but who is sort of doing the best she can. That goes for her friends as well.”

Hope and heart

Scoring “Waitress” was a creative departure for Bareilles, who was working from source material as opposed to mining her own life for thematic grist.

“It was a little bit of a stretch initially,” she acknowledges. “I had to find my way into taking on that role of being a storyteller on behalf of someone else, because I’ve always written very autobiographically. But I actually found that was the part about this process that I was the most delightfully surprised by, that I got such joy and creative nourishment out of writing for someone that wasn’t me. It was a really interesting thing.

“I think that was one of the great discoveries,” she continues, “that every story, when you crack it open and approach it with compassion, you find your way into a deeper place with it.”

Ultimately, “Waitress” is posited upon a kind of hard-fought uplift.

Think of it as the cream atop so much humble pie.

“We really wanted to make something that has hope and that has heart, because I know that we all feel that those kinds of things, especially in art, can really help open people up,” Bareilles says. “Those are the kinds of messages that I certainly want to be a part of.”

Young local performers to play part in ‘Waitress’

“It was the best day of my life!”

With a squeal of excitement, Melina Blitz recalls the current highlight of her five years on Earth.

The young actress and dancer is explaining how she felt upon learning that she was one of two local performers cast for the touring production of musical “Waitress.”

Each will play Lulu, the daughter of the play’s central character, Jenna.

Melina, who’s also a gymnast, along with her parents and brother, in Cirque du Soleil productions, will be joined by fellow Vegas dance student Adelaide Babcock as part of the show.

Like Melina, Adelaide’s mom and dad are in the entertainment industry, with the latter being the drummer for Las Vegas’ Human Nature and the former performing in the Australian production of The Wiggles.

“It’s been really exciting,” Adelaide says of getting the opportunity to act in her first professional show.

The most exciting part?

“I like getting paid best,” she says.

Don’t we all.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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