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Q&A: Katharine McPhee Is Cookin’ Up Something Good at ‘Waitress’


Katharine McPhee makes her Broadway debut in Waitress April 10. Photo: Matt Murphy.

Katharine McPhee is a multi-talented multi-hyphenate with five studio albums and two TV shows to her name. (ICYMI, she played Marilyn Monroe-hopeful Karen Cartwright on Smash and currently stars in the CBS action drama Scorpion.) Now, the American Idol runner-up steps onto a new stage — at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.

On April 10, McPhee makes her Broadway debut in the Sara Bareilles-penned musical, Waitress. McPhee plays Jenna, a waitress trapped in an awful marriage whose only joy is baking crazy-good pies. Broadway Spin sat down with McPhee to get the skinny on this new adventure.

Broadway Spin: Was being a Broadway always a dream? 

Katharine McPhee: It’s a lifelong dream that I have wanted, but I have also been really patient waiting for something that got me really excited. I love Sara [Bareilles]’s music so much and loved the movie. I was really fan-girling over the soundtrack. I had never seen the show, but was immediately ecstatic. I knew it was a really well-suited part for me.

Katharine McPhee makes her Broadway debut in Waitress April 10. Photo: Matt Murphy.

BS: What’s the most thrilling part of finally being on Broadway?

KM: The most thrilling part is now I get to do it!

BS: What’s the hardest part of finally being on Broadway?

KM: The hardest part is learning it!

BS: What qualities do you love in Jenna?

KM: I love her passion for pies. She has all these reveries. People refer to her as being kind-natured. She doesn’t mind waiting on old Joe, who is a sort of curmudgeonly character. I love that Jenna is very honest about where she is in her life. She’s not trying to fake her way through and say “Oh, I’m so happy. I’m so happy.” She’s honest about how she feels about things.

BS: What do you love about doing Waitress?

KM: It’s an all-around inspiring story and relatable to see someone struggling. Waitress is about finding your own autonomy and not surrendering to the idea of broken dreams and broken promises. You see how it’s never too late to dream again, to recreate your life and pick yourself up.

BS: When the curtain comes down, how do you get back to Katharine before you get to the stage door?

KM: I take a moment to just take a deep breath. There is so much adrenaline after a show, you just want to get right to the people.  I have a lot of friends and family coming the first night, so I’ll probably stay anxious to see how they liked it and drink some tea and just be ready to schmooze. I’m actually not a crazy tea person unless I’m singing. But I’ll probably do fresh ginger, lemon and honey. I tend to like that when I’m singing and I drink lots of water. So I make a fresh elixir tea.

Katharine McPhee makes her Broadway debut in Waitress April 10. Photo: Matt Murphy.

BS: Jenna is an ace pie-maker. How do your skills fare?

KM: Baking for me is a more concentrated art, so I typically only do it during the holidays. One year I made a pie with the most flaky and amazing pie crust ever. Just the other day, someone said to me, “I have the best pie crust ever. It’s a recipe from The New York Times that calls for vodka.”

BS: Has your connection to pie changed since taking on the part?

KM: It has just made me want to start baking more, really. I can’t wait to start baking some pie. And my goal is to bake a pie before opening night.

BS: What is one of your favorite pies to make?

KM: Blueberry pie. I love anything blueberry.

BS: You are living in New York City for two and a half months while doing the show, what do you love about being back?

KM: I lived here for two years when I was doing Smash and it has always been my most favorite place to visit work-wise. I love that I can just open my front door, wherever I’m staying, and just walk. That is how I discover cool places in the area, like cool shopping or coffee places. I like roaming around the West Village because it’s neighborhood-y with a “big city” vibe. I love people-watching in New York. It’s so fascinating to me. I get inspired by people’s style, how they’re walking and what they’re wearing.

So, New York or LA?

I’ve always loved this city. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, but I feel more connected to people here because you are forced to deal with all different kinds of people. They have a car for me for the show, but sometimes I take a subway because it’s faster and easier. And I like it getting into that New York vibe.

So… keep an eye out for McPhee and her blueberry baked goods making use of mass transit.

Katharine McPhee stars in the Tony Award-winning show Waitress through June 17 and tickets are in play through Broadway Roulette.