How Sara Bareilles Evolved Beyond Being a Pop Star – The New Yorker

Exactly how Sara Bareilles Evolved Past Being a Pop Star

The particular singer turned actress switched musical-theatre virtuoso discusses her role as the Baker’s Wife in the Sondheim musical “Into the Woods. ”

Portrait of Sara Bareilles leaning against a balcony in a Broadway Theatre.

Photographs by Yael Malka for The New Yorker

Sara Bareilles has a talent for finding the human center of things. She is currently starring in the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “ Into the Woods . ” In the musical, she plays the Baker’s Wife, a part that Joanna Gleason—who played the wife when the show débuted on Broadway, within 1987—first made famous, and that Imelda Staunton plus Amy Adams later performed. It’s a role that’s passed like the crown from one talented actress to the next. In a musical that is mostly a dizzying roundelay of Grimms’ fairy tales—Jack climbs his beanstalk, and Little Red Riding Hood squares off against the Wolf—the Baker’s Wife stands out. She’s skeptical, hurt, and a bit bitter, like the character in a Paula Fox novel. She desperately wants a child, and once she has one, understandably, the girl wants a bigger house in which to raise him. After the girl wishes come true, the lady finds life with the baker and an infant boring, and hooks up with a prince, then sings associated with her sort-of regret. She actually is the relatable focus of a show where every other character is a cultural icon. “She’s messy, ” Bareilles notes. “And that’s why I love her. ”

I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t love Bareilles’s performance in “Into the Woods. ” On the stage, in the particular show’s many ensemble numbers, Bareilles will be like a human playfully hiding in a Disney World skit plus, at the same time, a spritely presence peeking out within a game of guess-who’s-the-pop-star. Audiences howl with pleasure. Her sound, in the cast gifted with extraordinary voices, is usually remarkable. You can pick her out among all the amazing singers—the slightly earthier mezzo-soprano timbre and the particular soaring information when she opens points up, a bit of pop fizz seeping through under the cap. Listen to her delicate stop-and-start argument with herself in her apologia of the particular tryst, “Moments within the Forest. ”

A Tony nomination seems a strong possibility. But, whether that comes to pass or not, Bareilles, who is forty-two, will doubtless stay an unusual sort of bisected celebrity. For pop listeners now moving into their thirties, she’ll remain best known as the singer-songwriter of two monster hits, “Love Song, ” from 2007, and “Brave, ” from 2013. She will forever be the particular slightly angsty girl along with the long brown hair hatching earworms from the girl piano: “I’m not gonna write you a love song / ’Cause you asked for it / ’Cause you need one. ” And: “You can be amazing. A person can turn a phrase into or a weapon or the drug. ” You know you remember them.

But there was always another side to her. During those years, Bareilles was often compared with Taylor Swift , another singer-songwriter bringing a similar message to the mass market: that sensitive young women would no longer become suckers. “Love Song” and “Brave” went triple platinum. During a video interview at the period of “Love Song, ” with the Daily Mirror of London, the interviewer asked the particular hot new singer to describe her music style. “Piano-based pop soul, I guess, ” Bareilles answered, within a voice so soft you have to lean in to hear it. Her chestnut hair was in braids, and the girl wore a flowery shirt. She has been twenty-eight but looked younger.

She says now that this was not really her. The girl never truly yearned to be a pop star: “My first record came up next to Katy Perry, and it’s, like, a totally different thing. ” “I’m not that interesting in that way, ” the lady says. “I’m not that will interested in being that interesting. I mean, there’s nothing to see . ” She wanted to open up to different creative challenges plus invitations. The lady has written the score for the Broadway display and starred inside a sitcom. But she also continues to put out increasingly complex albums. As the Baker’s Spouse sings after her tryst, “Why not both instead? There’s the answer, if you’re clever.  .  .  . Is it usually ‘or’? Is it never ‘and’? ”

As a result, Bareilles has stealthily made the girl mark in more varied ways, burrowing into more vital places in the culture than Apple Music’s Pop Hits Radio. Before her overall performance in “Into the Woods” came her work because the songwriter for the musical “ Waitress , ” which usually ran for more compared to fifteen hundred performances. It’s the story of a woman who’s abused by the girl husband and finds solace in baking. The sitcom “Girls5eva, ” created by the team behind “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, ” pokes inventive fun in one-hit-wonder girl bands. She recorded her most recent album, “Amidst the particular Chaos, ” in 2019, with the storied producer T Bone Burnett. Many of the tracks are comments on the contemporary political hailstorm—one song had been a response to the #MeToo movement, and another was about Trump’s anti-immigration policies. None of the particular singles, the Los Angeles Times noted, charted on Billboard’s Hot 100. “I’m not really around the radio in the same way that will I was, ” Bareilles told me, “but it is opened up the lot associated with doors within terms of who I get to make things with. ”

Bareilles from the Broadway theatre exactly where she performs as the particular Baker’s Wife in a revival of “Into the Woods”—not the musical’s largest or showiest role but perhaps its most important.

Bareilles can now sometimes walk unrecognized down a New York City street. We are meeting for drinks at Fig & Olive, a restaurant within the Meatpacking District, near the studio where she is working upon postproduction with regard to the live-capture film associated with “Waitress. ” I observe a smallish woman in a green-and-white striped knit top plus overall shorts with a black-and-tan dog, and she introduces herself: “Sara. ” Her hair is definitely pulled back from a center part. The girl looks like the Tribecan who has wandered north, maybe with the girl yoga mat. We sit at an outdoor table so Louie, a cavapoo, can wander around a bit, and he or she orders a Tito’s Martini “with a twist—make it extra cold, please. ”

The lady begins the story of her “evolution, ” since she phrases it, while she sips her Martini. It turns out that she literally comes through the woods: her father and uncle both worked within the logging business, in Eureka, California, the town where she was born within 1979. The girl mother along with a sister did community theatre. In grade school, the girl started in order to sing plus write songs for fun. She went to U. C. L. A., where she sang in an a cappella group called Awaken. Another member of the team, the actor Geoffrey Kidwell, remembers that will Bareilles took him aside and performed him part of a song within the piano that she had already been working on regarding several years called “Gravity. ” (Join the three and a half million people who possess watched the girl and Elton John belt it away for a Breast Cancer Research Foundation Benefit in 2014. )

Bareilles is a good avid oversharer on social media. From Instagram, I learned that will she takes half the tablet associated with medication daily for depression and anxiety, and often feels insecure. Through Twitter, We know that she cried during “Up. ” The girl finds the particular American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön inspirational and uses the Ten Percent Happier app. In 2020, after the lady redeployed a vision board as the tray on which to rest some pizza dough before she slid this onto a pizza stone, she posted this takeaway: “Hold on to your dreams and after that remember it’s ok in order to let them change and maybe use them to make other desires come true. Like pizza. ”

What is possibly less well known about Bareilles is how hard she offers always worked. While they were each students with U. C. L. The., Kidwell as soon as came upon her on a café, entering a list into her planner and then putting the line through each item, and, when he asked what she was doing, she explained. “I really like the feeling of accomplishing things. So I’m writing down items I already did after which crossing all of them out. ” During college, she played local spots: a kosher Chinese restaurant called Genghis Cohen, the Hotel Cafe, Westwood Brewing Company; the girl also performed private parties. “She would just gig and show and event and gig, ” Kidwell said. One performance had an audience of only twelve people, all friends.

The effort paid off quickly. The particular band Maroon 5, a few of whose members were friends associated with hers from college, requested her to open for them. Then a self-produced album, “Careful Confessions, ” in 2004, began to get a following for Bareilles, and the lady caught the particular eye of the manager. A year later, the girl was signed to a major record label. Immediately, Bareilles intuited that will she experienced made a mistake—in the girl memoir, “ Sounds Like Me , ” she states that the first thing she did has been lock herself in her bedroom plus cry. The lady worried that “the big, bad pop monster might eat me personally, ” the girl says in her book. Soon the lady felt the particular intuition confirmed, as the brand assigned the girl various songwriters who didn’t understand her sensibility.

In frustration, she wrote “Love Song. ” “Love Song” was both her break-out hit and, because of how it arrived to end up being written, the girl claim to authenticity. The story of the song’s origin is usually told since the label actually demanding the love track from her for the album plus receiving this sputter associated with rage rather. Bareilles says that the particular defiance had been not that will specific; the girl felt that the label wanted a style of take she did not want to create and wrote “Love Song” as a sort of general eff-you gesture. (She admits in the girl book that she may have had a role within perpetuating the more dramatic version of events yet has since tried to correct the particular record, in order to little avail. “I just remember getting exhausted simply by trying. It was just too long-winded, ” she explained to me. “Like, eventually, you are just, like, ‘Yeah, that is fine. It is just not exactly correct. ’ ”)

Either way, the song’s meta trick—a woman writes the catchy tune about being unwilling to write a catchy tune about love—gave the particular song permission to succeed both as protest anthem and marketable totem. The gambit seems obvious right now, and possibly a little cynical, but Bareilles says that it came through a deep ambivalence. She adds that will her manager and tag, after hearing the recording, called “Little Voice, ” were each surprised by how successful it was. “And it’s an interesting point, ” the lady reflected today, fiddling using the rim associated with her Martini glass, “as someone that struggles along with self-esteem to be, such as, did we all not really believe in me a little bit? ”

“Love Song” made her famous and sent the girl out upon the road. The girl played bigger and larger venues intended for a few years, create the record “Kaleidoscope Heart, ” and after that went on tour plus played fifty-two shows. “I could really see clearly, you know, straight down the road that this existence of the touring musician gets very cyclical very quickly, actually redundant, ” she states. “And I was not that interested in that. ” Nevertheless, she scored another megahit with her next album, “Blessed Unrest”—one of whose tunes, “Brave, ” co-written along with the songwriting guru Jack Antonoff , was the pop call to empowerment that Bareilles created for a friend who was struggling with coming out in order to her parents. (This was when I actually first met Bareilles’s music, on my nine-year-old daughter’s iPod Shuffle. ) “Brave” led to bigger deals, larger gigs, and more money—she sold out there the Hollywood Bowl plus Radio City Music Hall—but over time Bareilles, despite relishing the connection to her fans as individuals, was more and more sure that she has been heading exactly where she do not wish to go.

The lady may also have anticipated the wall she would surely hit. Being the embodiment of youthful rage, the woman who will not be mansplained in order to, is a term-limited gig. The particular culture changes; the new young grow angrier or angry at different things. Within 2016, a woman wrote upon Twitter, “The only factor I hate more than Sara Bareilles’ music are the girls who listen to Sara Bareilles’ music. ” Bareilles was in danger of becoming a meme.

In “Girls5eva, ” Bareilles’s character faces a similar bind. The band can be remembered nostalgically by followers from its heyday. Younger audience regard it as ancient history. “It makes myself think of the mama’s boobies, ” the rapper who else samples Girls5eva comments. Another object lesson in the problem: in 2021, a judge on “Masked Singer” incorrectly guessed that will Bareilles had been the celebrity hiding within the pepper costume. It flipped out to be Natasha Bedingfield.

But, within real lifestyle, Bareilles was too alert and skilled to become trapped. As the lady was working on “Blessed Unrest, ” she moved to New You are able to, “looking to get something different”—uncertain, she says, what it would certainly be. She visited in September, the particular city’s the majority of clement month, in 2012, and found New York to her taste. “I, you understand, went out, got drunk, visited events, met individuals, saw friends in songs, played music. There were innovative opportunities that cropped up. It just felt like there was a whole artistic world waiting here. ” The girl took a good apartment the following January and first lived in the West Village, then NoLita, before the girl finally settled uptown.

You couldn’t be a musical acting professional in Nyc without bumping into Sondheim sooner or even later. 1 audition, shortly after she arrived, was for a version associated with “Into the particular Woods” to be performed as part of the Shakespeare in the Park series. She tried out for the role of Cinderella but did not obtain a call back. She was not really particularly familiar with Sondheim, and her musical flavor, though broad, ran more to some other genres: Ray Charles, Etta James, the particular Police, Prince, Fiona Apple, Bill Withers, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Dave Matthews Band, plus Death Cab for Cutie were among the influences that will she cited in a 2015 Oughout. C. T. A. alumni-magazine interview. When I questioned her what musicals the lady currently likes to sing within the shower, she mentioned “Chess”—“I never saw the show, ” the girl said, “but the music’s great. I really like love ABBA . ”

Of the Sondheim within the Park audition, the lady acknowledges that she produced a mistake. “I has been singing the particular song, ” she remembers, “but I didn’t understand the music. I had not really taken the time to know it. ” The lady had little acting experience, and it was the girl first real audition, as well. She recalls the humiliation she experienced as, in retrospect, “good for me. It was humbling, in the deep way. It’s, like, oh, that will what people do here, especially in the theatre community, is remarkable. And it is really hard, and it requires a lot associated with dedication plus intentionality. And I didn’t have either of all those things. ”

A couple of months later, she got a happier experience. Diane Paulus, who had been the director of the particular American Repertory Theatre, at Harvard, inquired if Bareilles desired to collaborate on a musical version of “Waitress, ” a movie that had arrive out several years before, created and directed by Adrienne Shelly. The story is of a lady who works in a restaurant, provides a child with an abusive husband, and has a good affair along with her gynecologist. She’s the gifted baker who makes pie in order to relieve her misery. Bareilles, who no one knew could do this particular kind of issue, jumped in the chance. The display proved a showcase for her to write dramatic songs with catchy tunes. Parts of the waitress’s experience were easy for her to conjure—she acquired waited plenty of tables before finding the label. She was also homing in on the fictional counterpart in order to whom she seems to naturally relate: a female which, as the girl puts it, is certainly “at a moment associated with reconciling the person she thought she would become with the person she actually was. ” As the particular title character sings because she begins her affair, “It’s the bad idea, me and you. Let’s just keep kissing till we come to. ”

“Waitress” opened upon Broadway within 2015, and at least several reviewers seemed surprised from what this had achieved. A critic for that Occasions conceded that will Bareilles’s music was “appealing. ” Audiences loved the show, plus Bareilles’s rating went on in order to earn four Tony nominations as well as a Grammy nomination. Whenever, in 2017, the much admired celebrity from the production—Jessie Mueller, who also had beaten Bareilles away for the particular Cinderella part in “Into the Woods” several many years before—left, Bareilles stepped onto the phase. When the news broke, the box-office sales went upward more than a million dollars in a single day—Bareilles’s enthusiasts hadn’t forgotten her. She continued to try new things anyway. The next year, the lady played Mary Magdalene, an additional conflicted figure, in a live production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” on NBC, and a few yrs later required the lead role within “Girls5eva, ” the comedy on Peacock. The show, which she knew the girl wished to perform as soon as she was offered the component, can be read as a type of motion of disdain, a wink at the particular performer the lady would in no way be caught into becoming. But it also gave her a new, ironic way to play along with audience expectations about whom she had grown up in order to become. At the end of the 1st episode, coming off the brief revival of the lady band, Bareilles’s character lies curled up on the living room couch with her spouse, head on his chest. When he suggests that they celebrate, she looks briefly intrigued. “Wanna start ‘The Americans’? ” he asks. Beat. The girl emits the hard-to-transcribe noise of disappointment, then the girl says, “Sure. ” Resignation, love, and sense associated with entrapment play across Bareilles’s visage since he clicks the remote. The moment reveals one more aspect of Bareilles that simply no one suspected: that the girl was an adept comic actress with an expressive face. She grew to have got some of the most mobile eyebrows in the business.

In 2017, Lear deBessonet, the artistic director of the Encores! series with City Center, saw “Waitress” and loved it. When she had been planning a production associated with “Into the Woods, ” she thought of Bareilles for your Baker’s Spouse. Casting Bareilles in the Sondheim music might on first seem a daring choice: Sondheim’s sophistication was nothing the lady had shown before; the particular pie-making waitress in “Waitress” would have little to say towards the pie-making madwoman of “Sweeney Todd. ” But deBessonet was thinking about a different facet of Bareilles’s skills. “ ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Waitress’ revealed exactly what a theatre creature she actually is, ” she remembers. “Honesty in acting is a little bit different within musical theater. It’s not really a naturalistic theatre, plus honesty in musical theatre does not equal naturalism. Her ability to locate that is so special. ” Although the Baker’s Wife is not the largest or showiest part of “Into the Woods, ” she may be the most important—everyone else circles around the girl, and the girl has to be played with complexity. When We spoke in order to James Lapine, who published the guide for “Into in a bad neighborhood, ” he told me that, though neither he nor Sondheim knew Bareilles’s acting work prior to, “I am a huge fan associated with hers at this point, and I think Steve would be, too. She’s simply terrific as the B. W. ”

Musicals in the Encores! series are not fully staged productions, and they only run for any short period. “The fact that it had been a two-week commitment made it very easy, ” Bareilles says. “I was, such as, this will be fun. It will be the challenge. ” On the particular downside, presently there was very little time to get ready. “I didn’t panic until I actually got in order to rehearsal, ’ she remembers. “I simply felt like I don’t want to create an ass of myself and be the only 1 holding a binder. But we managed. ”

To help her manage—remembering the girl last experience with Sondheim—she turned to Andre Catrini, a New York composer and voice coach plus self-proclaimed Sondheim nerd who was married to her old U. C. D. A. friend Kidwell. “If you have any question regarding anything Sondheim has ever done, Andre knows this by heart already, ” Bareilles states. Together these people sank their own teeth in to the function. Bareilles doesn’t read music, but Catrini wasn’t worried about that. “With Sara, it was never about how to sing the records, ” he says. They focussed on the particular meaning of the lyrics. Bareilles recalls working hard on enunciation. Enunciation will be less important in put music—the listener can constantly play the song again—whereas lyrics, because Sondheim pointed out, are often heard only once by the particular theatregoer, therefore they have to be crystal clear. Breathing, as well, is famously tricky within Sondheim. As we sat, Bareilles did me the girl solo song, “Maybe They’re Magic, ” snapping her fingers quickly to capture the speed with which the lyrics come at the particular singer: “There are rights and wrongs and in-betweens. No one waits when fortune intervenes. ” She opened up the girl voice: “And maybe they’re… really… magic, who knows? ” The lady explained, “To be able to support that phrase, you have to fill your lungs up somewhere, and it’s not for the page. ”

By the time the particular show opened up at Town Center, Bareilles had mastered the role. And whenever it moved to Broadway two months later, her performance, specifically her amusing skills, stood out. “Bareilles’s performance since the Baker’s Wife has only grown, beanstalk-like, ” the Periods applauded. Brian d’Arcy James, who plays her hubby, the Baker, recounted to me a time when this individual worked with Bareilles on how the lady should convey her impatience with his character’s dithering. She came up with a good idea to pull his apron string in irritation and tried it out a single night. “She just yanked it, and it got a really big laugh, ” Wayne says. “She’s not afraid to take chances within front associated with fifteen 100 people in a theater. ”

For some singers, the experience of getting the acclaimed star of a Sondheim production might finally define them—even “Moments in the Woods” ends with all the Baker’s Wife seeing the virtue of the familiar—but that is not the particular case pertaining to Bareilles. The particular show has been extended meant for eight a lot more weeks, directly into October, yet she is usually leaving right after September 4th to get back again to the girl album. “I had put off making the record, ” she explains. “This opportunity came. We were, such as, O. K., well, I can push this off a little bit. But making the transition into writing is not an overnight matter. It’s going to take a minute, so I’m just taking a little space. ” The girl says that will she is simply at the beginning of the new project: “Generally, I like to go back to tone of voice memos plus demos that have accumulated over the last few years and see if anything sticks. But , designed for this record, since I really haven’t been performing much composing, I think We might become starting from scratch. ” First she will go to Vancouver, where her boyfriend, the professional Joe Tippett, is focusing on a television show.

The lady remembers her assignation along with Sondheim happily. “I don’t think I actually really appreciated the difficulty of it, and the craft of it, until I was, like, looking at this from the inside, ” she says. She becomes aside to call for Louie to come back, and, when I ask her regardless of whether there’s another Sondheim part she’s eager for, the girl pauses. “I just do not know all of them well enough to name, ” she states, adding, “There are many issues I’m the late bloomer in. ”  ♦