Waitress's Katharine McPhee Enjoyed Her First Broadway Shift Enough to Pick Up a Second

McPhee will be spending the summer with her new big, bold, and beautiful theater community.

"Jenna's gonna be much tanner in July," joked Katharine McPhee, who will soon be jet-setting around the world on a much-needed vacation. She's been starring as Jenna in Broadway's Waitress since April 10 (her Broadway debut), and before that, she spent nine months shooting the fourth season of the CBS series Scorpion.

"I had been going for almost a solid year," said McPhee. "I thought if there's a chance that I go into season five, I need two weeks at least."

Fortunately, TV's loss is Broadway's gain. CBS did not pick up Scorpion for a fifth season, which means Waitress gets to keep McPhee at the diner through the summer after she takes her planned break. The first leg of her run ends June 17, but she returns to the Brooks-Atkinson Theatre July 5-August 12. In the interim, says the new Broadway inductee, "Waitress fans can expect me Instagramming my best life." But before the vacation 'gramming begins, hear what compelled McPhee to sign up for five extra weeks at the diner.

Katharine McPhee returns to the Broadway cast of Waitress from July 5-August 12.
Katharine McPhee returns to the Broadway cast of Waitress July 5-August 12.
(© Matthew Murphy)

You've said that after American Idol, other Broadway opportunities came along but you were waiting for one that felt special. Why did Waitress strike you as that special opportunity?
I'm not trying to echo Jessie [Mueller], but the thing she said that initially drew her in was Sara's music, and I have to agree with that. The music does such an incredible job of propelling the story. I think the proof is in the pudding why the show is still around after two years. This isn't a huge Disney blockbuster musical — this is a really great story, and if you have great music to go along with a great story, people are interested in watching it. So for me it was the music that initially pulled me in, but I think that the last 15 to 20 minutes of the show are my favorite — all the different moments and beats she gets to have. There's just so much in there.

Are there any parts of Sara Bareilles's score that you've come to appreciate more since you've started singing the show eight times a week?
I've always loved "Baking Can Do." That and "Everything Changes" — but I'm really just sitting back in the pocket of the song and really telling the story through the words. That lyric when she says, "and all my mistakes they make sense when I turn them around…I didn't know but now I see, sometimes what is, is meant to be." People ask, "What do you like better, acting or singing?" I always say to them, I can't answer that. When I'm on a TV show I love doing that. I love telling a story and putting myself in some other place. But when you get to tell the story through song, you're doing both. That's why people love theater, and loved Smash. I remember turning to Megan Hilty and saying, "Wow, we're really living our dream" because literally both art forms meld together, and if you can tell the story through the lyrics, you're acting and singing at the same time. There's nothing better than that.

That could be at least part of the reason why musical-theater fans, and by default Smash fans, are such a zealous group.
Exactly. Smash has had this huge life after because of the Broadway fans. I didn't realize that, but see all that fan mail sitting there? It's constant. It's actually overwhelming at times. But I've been on a TV show for four years, and the fans of Scorpion are crazy in love with the show as well. But that being said, I never got quite that much fan mail when I was on that TV show, which has more reach numbers-wise. It's blown my mind.

How have you enjoyed being a part of the Broadway community over the past few weeks?
It is a special thing. On my break I was walking back, and I saw these three girls walking together and one had her hair in a tight bun, and she had a Carousel sweatshirt on and I was like, oh, there are some girls in the show Carousel. When you're on the lot of a TV show, you maybe say hello to some people, but it's very, very different. You feel separated from your community. That's something I just didn't think about when I entered this whole world. I really love being able to know that we're all in this theater and we're all on the same schedule. I'm really excited to stay with this group over the summer. It's a niche community but when you're in it, it feels so big and so bold and so beautiful.

What would you say has been the most rewarding part of your time with Waitress so far?
The individual moments I have onstage. Just when I feel like a moment is becoming maybe stale or done the same way, I'll say the line and I'll get a reaction from the audience, and I literally get chills all over my body. I may not have been feeling something in that very moment, but when I hear that the audience has been touched in that moment, it comes back to me. It's invigorating.

McPhee takes her first bow as Jenna at the Brooks-Atkinson Theatre.
McPhee taking her first bow as Jenna at the Brooks-Atkinson Theatre.
(© Tricia Baron)

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Closed: January 5, 2020