Since opening on Broadway in 2016, Sara Bareilles’ acclaimed musical Waitress has featured a string of boldfaced names in the lead role of Jenna — from Beautiful Tony-winner Jessie Mueller to Katherine McPhee to Bareilles herself. Starting September 4th, stage veteran Nicolette Robinson will take her turn mixing sugar, butter and flour for a two month run at the Brooks Atkinson Theater.
For Robinson, the timing was perfect: She’s a recent new mom, and the only one in real life to take on the conflicted, pregnant character. As she prepped for her first performance, Robinson spoke to Billboard about why Jenna is a dream role for her, and what it’s like to be part of one of Broadway’s most beloved couples.
How does it feel to be the new Jenna?
I’m plowing through, learning as much as I can. At night I’ll watch the show after rehearsal, so it’s a full day. It’s like a summer camp, just doing all of the things you love all day long. I love the show because it’s so fun and funny and you’re singing Sara Bareilles songs, which is a dream.
When did you first see the show?
I saw it shortly after it opened with the original cast. I treated myself to a date night by myself with a seat in the front row mezzanine. I was at a place in my life where I was deeply in need of some inspiration, going through that thing some actors go through where you put a lot of energy out there auditioning and not getting as much back. So when I saw the show everything about it hit me deeply. I became a fan right away, bought the album and have listened to it so much. It ended up becoming a part of my life, even more deeply than I ever thought it would be.
I’m a mom and my daughter is almost 16 months; when I got pregnant my husband was away for awhile in Europe shooting a movie. So I had a very tough, emotional pregnancy and was going through a lot on my own. I started listening to this cast album every single day, and it kind of became a source of therapy for me.
It sounds like this was fate. When you got the call to do the show, were you just like, “Oh my God!”?
My stomach dropped. I was like, I have to do this. It’s my dream role. I never really spoke it out loud to anybody except for my husband, because I never thought it’d be an opportunity that I’d have a chance to claim. I made a tape right around my 30th birthday, sent it in, and the creative team flew me into New York to have an hour session with the team and Drew Gehling who plays Dr. Pomatter opposite me. I read and sang with him, did a bunch of scenes, bonded with the creative team and was living my best life in that room. I also scared out of my mind, singing Sara Bareilles music in front of Sara Bareilles. It was just very surreal.
Shortly after I left the room the producer came out with the casting director and told me they couldn’t officially offer me the job right now, but they wanted to work with me. I waited a week and then got the offer to do the show.
Speaking of your husband — he’s Hamilton Tony-winner Leslie Odom Jr. How did you two meet?
We met doing a production of Once On This Island in 2008. Billy Porter, who’s on Pose now, directed it. I came along late into the show to replace someone, and Leslie was assistant directing, so he had the task to catch me up on all of my blocking and helped me fully step into the production. We worked very closely together and started this really amazing friendship, which was sort of a showmance. We didn’t expect to grow closer the show. A week after the show ended he asked me out to dinner and we’ve been together ever since.
Is your household as musical as one would think?
If you’ve ever seen my audition tapes, he’s always reading lines and is my scene partner. We give each other space in the creative process, but we both trust each other more than anybody. At a certain point in our process, we’ll usually have conversations about what we’re working on and run through music or scenes together. We’re each other’s rehearsal partners and life directors!
And since our daughter was born, we’ve been singing way more than we ever used to. I sing her to sleep and put music on every single night. We read a book, we say a prayer and I say, “Do you want me to sing you a song?” and she says, “Yah!” I’ve also been singing her songs from Waitress before she was even born. She’s known its music before she came out of the womb.