Trading cold fronts for costumes and seven-day outlooks for two hour performances, NBC’s Today Show staple Al Roker is stepping away from the green screen and onto the Broadway stage for his debut in the hit show Waitress, appearing in every show through Nov. 11 (with the exception of weekend matinees) as Old Joe, a frequent customer of the diner where lead character Jenna serves up her famed pies.
Singing and dancing onstage for the first time is just the latest entry in the beloved morning TV personality’s eclectic resume: a 13-time Emmy winner, he’s written books, appeared on shows ranging from Seinfeld to 30 Rock, and launched a successful production company.
In advance of his Oct. 5 debut in the show, Billboard spoke to Roker about his preparation.
Al Roker: Broadway star. Has this been a secret goal of yours?
No, no, no. I suppose, maybe in your deepest fantasies if somebody were to wave a wand…in the past, there were only two different plays where I thought, “Oh, if I could do that.” I remember my mother taking me to see Zero Mostel in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and The Producers. Those two roles — but I would have never, ever, ever attempted something like that. So when this came up it was like, “Well, what the heck?” It’s a small role and it doesn’t make or break the show. Thank God.
So how did this opportunity come about?
[The Waitress team] reached out to my agent and said they thought I’d make a great Old Joe. After I got off the initial chagrin of somebody thinking I’d be perfect for a character named Old Joe, I was kind of flattered. My daughter, who went to LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts, is the one who really wanted me to take the role –“Dad, you can do this! It’d be great! You can talk in pitch, it’d be fine!” Of course, she’s away at school now so she won’t be able to see her father get humiliated every night. But that’s okay.
Old Joe is always hanging out in the diner. How did your role prep work?
Well, I guess I’ve always wanted to own a restaurant and Joe owns the diner. To be honest, because I don’t sing I’m working with a great voice coach, Deric Rosenblatt. He’s just been terrific. My lessons have been interesting and it’s been fun, kind of. I’m doing those vocal exercises you always see in the movies. In the show I do “Take It From an Old Man.” Deric says I’m getting better, but maybe it’s because he wants to keep getting paid. But I enjoy the time with him, so if nothing else I’ve met somebody nice.
You’ll be in every show, which usually gets out around 10:00 or 11:00 pm. Then you wake up before dawn for Today. Are you just barely going to sleep for the next two months?
I don’t usually go to bed until 10:00, 10:30 p.m. anyway. I may work in some naps. I’m just going to play it by ear.
Do you usually see a lot of Broadway shows?
I see some. I loved Monty Python’s [Spamalot], Something Rotten!, Book of Mormon. Denzel Washington in Fences was about as good as it gets. Seeing Bryan Cranston as LBJ [ in All the Way] was really amazing. And The Trip to Bountiful with Cicely Tyson and Condola Rashad. Great Broadway shows can be transformative when you’re sitting there watching them. We were there for the opening night of Hamilton.
What was that like?
You knew it was something you’d remember for the rest of your life.
Is there another show you’d like to step into on Broadway to follow up your debut in Waitress? Maybe Hamilton?
Oh, yeah. I’d love to play King George [laughs]. I think that’d be an inspired bit of casting: a black guy from Brooklyn playing King George. Lin-Manuel, if you’re listening, I’m done with this in November.