Two years ago, singer-songwriter Jason Mraz joined his friend Sara Bareilles for two songs on What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress, her album of tunes from her Tony-nominated musical. Now, with a little experience singing the role of Dr. Pomatter under his belt, Mraz will step into the ongoing Broadway production of Waitress on Nov. 3, taking over the role from originator Drew Gehling for a ten-week run at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
Based on the 2007 film starring Keri Russell, the musical tells the story of Jenna (currently played by Betsy Wolfe), a waitress who becomes trapped in a toxic marriage when she unexpectedly becomes pregnant — only to fall in love with her married gynocologist, Dr. Pomatter.
On the eve of his debut, Mr. A-Z himself spoke to Billboard about taking on the role, his future Broadway plans, and who’s taking care of his avocado farm while he’s onstage.
How did you originally get involved with Sara Bareilles for What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress?
Being on her album and being in the show were both a direct result of her pretty much cold-calling me and saying, “Hey, would you be interested in doing this?” First was her album: “Would you be interested in singing these songs? I’ll send them to you. Tell me what you think. I’m writing a musical and you can sing these two duets on my album.” I thought, “Wow.” I was concerned that maybe my voice wasn’t mature enough to be a doctor. But she says, “No, no, no you’ll do great.”
So I went in, and I mean, that girl is such a gifted writer and when she sings, it’s an event. And to harmonize with her and sing her words and melodies is a tremendous honor. And then same thing, two years later she called me and asked me if I’d consider doing it on stage and I thought, “Oh my gosh.” How do you say no to her? Inside my head I’m screaming, “No, don’t do it! You’re crazy!” But I thought, I’ve gotta do it for her, and I gotta see what the experience is going to feel like, and I gotta tell you, I’m absolutely loving it.
Did you get the chance to see the show before joining it?
Yes, I got to see it twice. Once with Jessie Mueller [the original Jenna] and once with Sara [who replaced Mueller for a limited engagement earlier this year] and I’ve seen it again a third time since I’ve been here in New York. I’ll see it again a few more times. It continues to make me laugh and cry; it’s a perfect show. It really is. It’s the perfect story. Nothing is left out.
You were hired on faith — what is it like to have no audition process and just jump right into the production? I know you had theater experience back in high school. Did that prepare you at all?
Yes and no. Yes because I’ve been on stage my whole life, since I was in my early teens, and even that contributed to who I am as a songwriter, and how I create set lists and tell stories and create a narrative in my show. So I feel like I’ve had enough experience that I feel authorized to be able to step into this. But it is a stretch. It’s new muscles. I make up that Dr. Pomatter’s very handsome, and I tend to be a little goofy. My hair’s really curly. Like, would Jenna really fall for this guy? Me? But that’s just my own self-doubt issues.
The fact that I didn’t have to audition [actually] gave me more confidence. I said, “Oh, okay. They could have cast anyone and they’re choosing me so I’m going to step up. I’m going to do whatever it takes. I’m not going to eat sugar. I’m going to be ready and I’m going to embody this guy and I’m going to make it so that Jenna falls in love with Dr. Pomatter every night.”
What do you think you’re bringing to the role that is unique?
Well, it’s a little early to say, cause I’m finding that right now. I really want to borrow the best qualities from every Pomatter I’ve seen and live up to the story and the fan’s expectation and the director’s expectation of who Pomatter is. But it’s also important that every actor puts themselves into it so I’m still finding it. I love singing. That to me is the easy part. The challenge I’m faced with, that I’ve gotta put myself into, is [exploring] when nervous and awkward Dr. Pomatter is trying to awkwardly tell his truth without crossing the line and trying to stay professional. I’m still finding it.
Which song is your favorite to perform so far?
I was already familiar with “You Matter to Me,” which I love. “Bad Idea” is a joy ride. So, the one that’s new to me that I absolutely love now is “It Only Takes a Taste.” That’s him finally opening up, and connecting with her for the first time outside of the office, and it’s a beautiful song with story and great melodies that go high and low and then a beautiful bridge that has these long carry-over notes. It’s awesome. I got to sit on stage yesterday on the park bench and sing this song, and I thought, “Holy shit. I’m in a Broadway musical.” It was a little surreal.
Do you see yourself wanting to do more Broadway in the future?
I don’t know. This is my first, and I love it now. You’ll have to ask me again in mid-January. It’s a long time to be away from my cat; it would have to be the right show, the right role. Something that I’m proud of. And I’ve been proud of this since I first met Sara in the recording studio to sing with her. I’d have to have a similar experience to come back and do it again.
Speaking of time away from home, who’s taking care of the avocados while you’re on Broadway?
Aw, I have a farm manager and I do get to employ my friends that check up on everything and keep things running smoothly, because starting at Christmas the avocados will be in harvest again. They’ll be doing their thing. The good news is they’ll be shipping me avocados once a week, so I’m very excited about that.