Jason Mraz became a famous musician because he thought it would be easier than being on Broadway. But now life has come full-circle, because—as of tonight—the 40-year-old Grammy winner will be playing a leading role in the hit musical Waitress (which just so happens to have been penned by fellow Grammy winner, Sara Bareilles). During his 10-week run, Mraz will star opposite Betsy Wolfe. Wolfe plays Jenna Hunterson, a pregnant waitress and ace pie-maker who longs to escape her loveless marriage and seek her dreams. Mraz plays a small-town OB/GYN, Dr. Pomatter. In the (unlikely) event that you aren’t already familiar with the story, we’ll leave it at that.
Recently, Mraz teamed up with Bareilles at the YouTube Space NY in Chelsea Market to perform a few duets from the show and chat about his journey to the stage.
Broadway Spin: What is it like being in New York and getting ready to star in Waitress?
Jason Mraz: I have been in New York two weeks and I feel completely transformed. I also feel completely welcome in this ensemble, in this show, in this city. I feel like everything I’ve done over the past 20 years was just buying time until I could get back here and become part of a show and have a purpose.
BS: What’s the best part of joining the cast of Waitress?
JM: The biggest joy is that I get to do it night after night after night. I love performing and this is an opportunity to step into something new, where I get to challenge myself as a performer—and I get to be on a team. It’s not about me anymore. The rest of my career has been about me. “What am I going to do for the set list? What stories will I tell?” When I go into Waitress, it’s all about Pomatter and living up to the beauty and genius of the cast. This is an opportunity for me to go back to school to learn and grow. Also Sara is a brilliant singer and writer. Every song is an event.
BS: You haven’t been on Broadway before, but didn’t you perform musicals when you were in high school?
JM: Our high school had drama and music programs and we would come together and put on musicals. We’d have an orchestra in the pit, actors and singers on stage, costuming. I played Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I was also in Studs Terkel’s Working. We did children’s theater so we could play to the elementary school. I loved it.
BS: Did you plan to pursue a career in musical theater then?
JM: My only goal in life was to sing. I assumed that I should stay in this musical theater genre and go for it because at that time, I didn’t play any instrument. I knew my home would be on stage. The other options would have been joining a cruise ship or barbershop quartet or perhaps becoming a music teacher. But I just wanted to sing and loved the reaction that you could get with an audience. So musical theater is where I went.
BS: And you studied at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City?
JM: I spent two semesters there. My roommate played guitar and I got sucked into it. I realized with an instrument on my lap, I could sing. I had freedom and didn’t have to audition. I could take my guitar anywhere I wanted. I could go to Central Park, the subway, or sidewalk and build an audience and sing and sing. I made a huge detour down the path of original music—and with original music, I felt it would be less competitive than auditioning for a role.
BS: But now here you on, on Broadway!
JM: Twenty years later, I get to come back and try theater again. I will say that in the past 20 years, I’ve continued to do variety shows and theatrical productions through various organizations. It’s still very much a part of what I do, but joining this cast is good timing. I was looking for something that would change up my routine and excite me as a performer like Waitress does.
BS: Why do you love to sing?
JM: Sometimes our thoughts drift into the future or the past, and we don’t even know where we’re standing. But when we sing, we’re in the moment. You’re breathing consciously. You’re awake. Singing makes me feel alive. My whole body is vibrating. I’m breathing deeply. And when you’re singing with others, harmonies are created. And suddenly, there are these new vibrations that you can almost see. They are so vivid to your ears. You can almost see colors. Singing bails me out of any darkness or confusion. I once read a quote: “when you sing, you’re praying twice.” And I love that. You’re not just saying words. You’re coming to life with those words. There is something about putting melody to words that allows those words to fly.
BS: What are you looking forward to doing when you’re not working?
JM: I love going to coffee shops and finding the best reviewed coffee, where they think they’ve got it figured out. I like to position myself in the corner of the room and write and write and write and write. I let my thoughts come and drink delicious coffee. I’m so looking forward to having a little bit of time in New York where I can do that on my days off. Also, my wife and I love to eat. New York is filled with restaurants and we never have enough time to go to them. So we’re hoping with the time we get here, we can experience great food.