Sara talked to Broadway World to discuss what she’s learned throughout her journey with Waitress, the “intimacy” of bringing the musical to cinemas, her favourite Waitress memories, and more.

How are you feeling about Waitress coming to movie cinemas?

Oh my gosh, it’s a very exciting time. It feels like a miracle. We’ve shot this two years ago. We did it completely independently, got financing and we didn’t work with a big studio. This has all been very handmade and very bespoke and a total labour of love.

Even just the unknowns of finding a home for this, for this film, the strike happening. There was talk while we were on strike, I’m like, “I can’t promote this film. I have to get permissions.” And we got an interim agreement and then the strike was over. So it was like, “Oh my God, thank God.” So it’s just been like an edge of my seat kind of experience to get this out into the world at all.

It is the great love of my life, the show. It’s just been a complete miracle that this film came into my life, that it turned into a musical, that we had success, that it’s taken all these different left turns. It has changed everything about my life for the better. So I feel like this film is a love letter to the whole project, to this cast, to this band, and to our incredible fans who have been with us from literally day one. So I’m so excited. It’s the best birthday gift.

It’s been an incredible, almost 10 year journey for you. To have it be immortalised in this way, what does that part mean to you?

I think I feel so relieved that when I’m a little old lady, hopefully I can go back and just relive the magic of this time and this labour. It was an experiment. I had no idea what I was doing or what this would bring or how hard it would be. I mean, it has been a tremendous source of joy and pain and everything in between.

I think the thing you don’t know when you’ve never worked in theatre before is, should you be so lucky as to have a successful venture, it becomes a family member. It’s like all of these people that have made the show, we are in regular contact, taking care of this property, this new member of our family. The coolest thing is that she’s having a huge life. There’s productions all over the world. The fact that it’s gonna be in movie cinemas is crazy. It’s really been a complete joy and I’m so grateful I get to see this happen.

You mentioned it becoming part of your family. What I’ve loved since Waitress is seeing the ‘Sara Bareilles renaissance’ on Broadway. What has opening up Broadway and musical theatre into your career meant to you?

It has been like going home. I would catch myself when we were going into rehearsals for our very first workshop of Waitress. I had my little binder, the script and the music and my coffee and be going into rehearsals or workshop or whatever it is. I was so happy.

I love my job. I love what I do. I love writing music. I love playing music. But there is something that happens to me in the theatre that is, it is so joyful. I feel like, especially as I age, I’m going to be 44 in just a few days here. Why would I not want to spend more and more time in the place that makes me so giddy? I’m so happy to go to work. It’s just a total thrill. I felt the same way doing Into the Woods. I love going to work. I think if you’re lucky enough to find those little hotspots for yourself, spend as much time there as humanly possible. Like, why wouldn’t you? Being a more joyful person is only good for the world.

With people all over the country being able to see Waitress with this film, was there something you watched or listened to growing up that helped you gain access to musical theatre?

Oh gosh, there were so many. One of the movies I wore out was the Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella with Lesley Ann Warren. I wore that out. I loved that so much. I watched it 10 million times. The Into the Woods PBS special was also another one that I saw over and over again. Sound of Music, of course. Grease, Grease 2. Some of those were staples in my rotation.

In terms of original cast albums, I did a ton of Phantom of the Opera. I just went to the closing of that show and I was transported. I was a 12 year old girl. I’ve never been more awestruck by something in my life. It was just unbelievable. I think only theatre people, and there are so many more of us than I think people admit to, it is just primal. Watching these stories come to life in front of your face is a miracle. It’s incredible. When it’s done impeccably, it’s just impossible not to love.

What do you hope those audiences around the world take away from Waitress?

I think what feels so present to me right now is that the world feels so dark in so many ways. I think there’s a lot of fatigue around how despairing we are. I know I relate to that deeply. There are just so many things to feel hopeless about and I am not a hopeless person. So I love that Waitress is like a little bit of comfort food. I really think it feeds the soul. It’s not that there isn’t any darkness in this film. I think it does a beautiful job of kind of carrying the darkness and light right next to each other. There’s a lot to laugh at and a lot to love. There’s a lot to touch into that feels resonant and emotional. I think it feels like a really warm place to spend a little bit of time. Sometimes I think it’s easier helpful and to care when you have a little bit of gas in the tank. This movie feels like a soft place to land.

Getting into the film a bit, we’ve seen other recordings of Broadway shows. In this one, they are on stage with you, up close and personal. What was it like filming a Broadway show for a camera like that?

Yeah, we had four days total. We recorded two live performances with an audience, and then we did two days of setups on stage where we brought the cameras in close. We got those big crane shots, the overhead shots. We got some handheld stuff on stage, things you couldn’t do with an audience there. What the film ended up being was kind of an amalgamation of both. I think we wanted to preserve as much of what happens in the room when there’s an audience there as possible. But we also wanted to lean into the superpower of cinema – intimacy.

Bringing you even closer to the performances and the nuance and what’s actually happening on stage. I think you forget when you’re sitting in the back of a thousand seat theatre that there’s a lot happening that you can’t quite clock. It just doesn’t read that far. It’s a really beautiful way to get an up close and personal look at what the show is doing. And these wonderful performances, this cast is just so incredible.

You’ve done Waitress several times on Broadway, and on the West End. It’s been a long journey. Throughout all those different experiences, is there a core memory that sticks out to you?

I would never know how to pick one. My brain immediately floods with like 10 million.

I remember the very first time looking down at my white shoes as the curtain was about to raise for the first time and feeling literal panic. I remember forgetting the words to ‘What’s Inside‘, which is a song I wrote, by the way. I remember this time Stephanie Torns, who is our incredible original company member and our Jenna understudy originally and then stepped into the role many times. I remember seeing her shoulders go up and laughing as I sang some super old version of the song. She was like, “What the f–k are you saying?”

I remember being on the West End with Gavin Creel, who’s one of my closest bestest friends playing Dr. Pomatter. We walked on stage and the gynecological table is not where it’s supposed to be, and we just look at each other and it’s like, “What are we going to do now?”

I mean, just flooded with memories. The time the diner didn’t move and they had to close the curtain before I went into the show. I ran on stage and started singing ‘Part of Your World’ from The Little Mermaid to the audience while they were just trying to stall for time. It’s the magic of theatre. It’s just completely unpredictable. It’s so alive. It’s an organism that lives and breathes and every show is so different. I love that we get to sort of preserve this little curated time capsule.

Throughout that whole journey, what did you learn about yourself and about your artistry through your time with Waitress?

Oh my gosh. I think I really grew up inside this show. I think I really grew into an artist. I think doing something that I really didn’t know I could do so many times over, or just writing the show, collaborating like this, becoming a producer, stepping into the show, the opportunities that have come from the relationships that were in the show, working with JJ Abrams and Ron Howard and Tina Fey, working with titans of the industry that all came from this little seed.

It changed my life. It changed my DNA. So I’ve just learned, I’ve learned that, like Jenna, I’m capable of more than I thought I was. That’s a really beautiful lesson to learn.