Sara Bareilles is Stunning in NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert As She joins John Legend and Alice CooperWhen it comes to a role of a lifetime there are few that come close to spending time with Sara Bareilles, who is now portraying Mary Magdalene in NBC’s special event of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert airing on Easter Sunday.
The highly-anticipated special event, an exuberant staging of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s iconic rock opera, will air live on April 1, in front of a large audience at the Marcy Armory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Based on the final week of Jesus’ life, the album hit number one on the Billboard charts and made its way to the stage in 1971, some 47 years ago. Since then, the compelling, powerful, and memorable show has been performed in 20 countries and translated into 18 languages.
The lovely 38-year-old Bareilles is an acclaimed recording artist, songwriter, Broadway star, and six-time Grammy nominee.
Describing her sound as “piano-based-pop,” she has sold more than nine million singles/downloads and one million albums. Her 2007 single Love Song, from the album Little Voice, is her highest-charting release, which reached platinum status.
Bareilles starred as Ariel in the 2016 production of The Little Mermaid at the Hollywood Bowl. She was nominated for a 2016 Tony Award for Best Original Score and also earned a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theater Album.
She wrote the music and lyrics for the current Broadway musical Waitress, a heart-felt look at a pregnant young woman trapped in an abusive marriage, who climbs out of her bleak situation with help from several of her friends at the diner where she is a baking marvel who blends unique ingredients to craft scrumptious pies.Bareilles played the leading character of Jenna in Waitress on Broadway, before embarking on the challenge of Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar. Her co-stars include John Legend at Jesus Christ, Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas and Alice Cooper as King Herod.
The show is directed by esteemed British theater director David Leveaux, (Nine), and the vibe during the recent rehearsals for this groundbreaking performance is clearly electrifying. Leveaux says the first time Bareillis sang for him he had only one production note: “Do it exactly like that again; it was perfect!”
Sara, who inspired you early on to have this kind of career and how important was their support?
Sara Bareilles: My family; my mom and my sisters were all very involved in community theater. I would go as a little girl – I’m nine years younger than my oldest sister and six years younger than my middle sister so I would go and see their productions and just couldn’t wait to get on stage.
Please tell me more about this.
SB: I was a misfit little kid and kind of bullied at school. Finding the theatrical community was a great home for me very early on, and it’s where I felt like I could really be myself and sort of be the little weirdo that I was, and not be judged for it. So I would say that my family was probably the biggest influence on me.
What kept you going during tough auditions? Some people give up even though they’re talented.
SB: I would go on auditions and sometimes the hardship on the outside would then fuel my inner workings and my inner world. So, that would make me turn to the piano as a songwriter and channel my frustration or my feelings of being misinterpreted and create a song out of it. I think there’s a nice symbiotic relationship there with rejection and where do you put the rejection, whether it’s from a love relationship or professional relationship.
I’m wondering if there are any notes, any scene, any moment that’s coming up in the show Jesus Christ Superstar that you have trepidations about, or that you’re really thinking about a lot now?
SB: Any time I have to sing, I Don’t Know How to Love Him is going to feel like an important moment. In part just because I’m all by myself on stage and so it will sort of feel like the starkest moment for me, personally. Also, I know people are so enamored of that song, so just wanting to do the song justice. I think, hopefully getting enough rehearsal time and just getting comfortable in the space and with the material that I can transcend some of those nerves and just give it what I’ve got.
The word on the street around here is that you nailed the first run through of the song.
SB: That’s really sweet. I love the score and I really love that song in particular. I just felt like I understand what it’s trying to do, so I’m hoping I can deliver on the day. Who knows. It’s a live event.
Your theater experience should definitely make you feel way more comfortable in that environment, right?
SB: Absolutely. I feel so grateful that I got to be a part of Waitress as an actor because I think that it helped me find my feet on stage. As a piano player you find yourself, you get really kind of stuck even in the physicality of I hide behind the piano. The piano is my anchor point on stage and stepping away for the first time, you don’t know what to do with your body.
I would think that working with [choreographer] Camille Brown is no joke.
SB: No joke. Thankfully, I’ve not been given any crazy choreography so I’m very stoked about that because I’m not a dancer. It’s been nice to just ground and just interpret the character from a place of honesty. But, yes, Waitress absolutely helped me prepare and feel myself.
You got dancing a little bit from that.
SB: A little bit. And I learned so much about baking pies.
This live audience and the interaction between the talent, the performers, the band and the audience appears to be a key to this production. How are you grappling with that? Is it going to be strange?
SB: I am so grateful for that because I will find that to be very grounding.
That’s more about feeling at home, right?
SB: Totally. I think we all sort of feel that way from theatrical backgrounds to being a concert performer. The audience; that’s why you showed up. I think it will be nice to actually help to distract from the idea that there are cameras at all. Just play to the crowd and hopefully that will transcend.
With the cameras around, are you just playing to the crowd? Or has there been direction from [live TV director] Alex [Rudzinski] about ‘we’re going to have a close-up here, so you change the emotion a little based on camera locking’ or anything like that?
SB: We haven’t done much of that. They’re really treating this in the room as a theatrical production so it’s much more trying to, I give David so much credit for that. He’s really emphasizing, it’s about connection and it’s about honestly between the actors. So, I think if you get that right, that will play for the cameras.
How did the call come in for this job? Did [producers] Neil Meron or Marc Platt call you?
SB: The first thing that came to me was an email from Marc Platt. I was on a short break from my rehearsals for Waitress and I checked my email and I got an email from Marc. I immediately wrote him back and said, ‘Short answer is yes.’ I didn’t know anything about the actual logistics, but it all worked out. It was an immediate yes for me, and I am thrilled to be here with this stellar cast and crew for this emotional, evocative and stunning show.
Have you found any similarities between Jenna, your character in Waitress, and Mary Magdalene?
SB: That’s so interesting. You know what I think that they both sort of have this kind of fundamental goodness and each have a very messy life. The thing that I have found so fascinating in doing a little bit of outside research about Mary Magdalene is that so much that we know about her is potentially false and she actually was a very powerful figure.
That’s interesting, please tell me more about this.
SB: She bankrolled Jesus’ campaign. She wasn’t even necessarily a prostitute. That was an interpretation that a Pope made in 500 AD. There’s all of these misnomers about her. That has been really interesting, even just to frame her as a character for myself and realizing that she’s one of the first examples of a female figure who got diminished because she was a woman. It’s really beautiful to get to tell her story and know that she was an absolutely a disciple of Jesus and absolutely a great champion of his message. So, I find that I’m very honored that I get to interpret her.
For further information on NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert: Click Here
For information on Sara and Waitress: Click Here
For a sample of Sara’s Music: Click Here
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