Places, please for ELLE’s monthly column Showstoppers, where theater’s biggest stars reflect upon the moment in their career where the famous phrase “the show must go on” became a little too real. When things don’t go according to plan onstage, here’s how the pros react—and what they take away from it.
This month, Sara Bareilles, who stars in the recorded Broadway production of Waitress, which comes to theaters December 7, details the spur of the moment performance she gave when a set piece fell awry. Below, in her own words, Bareilles discusses the hidden joy of a theatrical mishap.
When we were in previews for Waitress, I wasn’t in the show yet, but I was in the back. We were in previews and taking notes and we were all watching from the back of the audience. The diner, which is this big hydraulic system, didn’t come on the stage where it was supposed to, and it wasn’t the kind of thing you could sort of work around. It was the giant set piece that didn’t move into place. There was a problem.
So the stage manager’s voice comes on the announcement system, they pause the show, the curtain comes down, and you start hearing them just hammering. It started becoming clear it was going to take a minute. So, I ran up on stage, I got handed the microphone, and then I just started bantering with the audience. I sang Little Mermaid’s “Part of Your World.” I sang one of the cut songs [from Waitress]. I held the microphone up to the curtain so some of the cast members could sing from behind. It was kind of mayhem. We were having the fucking time of our lives. It was just a total party.
The thing that I love about audiences in general, but definitely Broadway audiences or theater audiences: They love when shit goes wrong. It’s delicious because you get reminded that we’re all in the same space together. We’re alive making these choices one at a time, and that life is completely imperfect and unpredictable, and so you just have to make it work.
There was another time in London where it was an issue with another set piece, but my best friend, Gavin Creel, was playing Dr. Pomatter at the time. We walk in for our scene and there’s no gynecological table and everything happened on the table. So, we just had to stop. And Gavin was such a pro and just laughed it off and then walked off-stage and brought back the table. It was just hilarious. And the audience eats that shit up. It was so great.
I think people are so generous in those moments. They get that you’re trying, they’re watching you try to make something work, and they’re rooting for you. I think it takes a lot to use up the generosity of the audience, like wear out your welcome. You’ve got a lot.
“We got this incredible arts grant from Chuck Schumer’s office, and we got the opportunity to remount the show after Broadway had been shuttered for 18 months. I mean, that was not in the original plan. We got the cast assembled and it was kind of our all-star cast and some of my best friends. Joe [Tippet, Bareille’s fiancé] was going to be able to do it. It was just like we felt this pull to make sure that we were able to preserve the show. So it was a bit of a scramble, but we did it all independently without knowing where it was going to land. It’s been a very long process. We made this two years ago and it’s been very handmade. I’m in the editing room with Jessie Nelson and the sound mixing, and we’re doing a lot.
“To have this finally land, not only at the Tribeca Film Festival, which felt like, how fucking cool and prestigious is that? And then to be actually in theaters is just…I’m so grateful to Bleecker Street, who are partnering with us, and Fathom Events. We’re really making this a moment. It’s so cool.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Sara Bareilles stars as Jenna Hunterson in Waitress, which premieres in theaters December 7.
Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief
Samuel is the Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief at ELLE Magazine. He covers theater, culture, and anything to do with Taylor Swift. He famously broke both his arms at the same time in fourth grade.