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Sara Bareilles Talks Playing The Iconic Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar Live!

Awards Daily TV talked with Sara Bareilles about taking on the iconic Mary Magdalene in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar Live!’, working with John Legend and hosting the Tonys.

Sara Bareilles performance as Mary Magdalene on NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live! blew us all away. For those who have been following her career since her single ‘Love Song’ came out through to her performance as Jenna in Broadway’s Waitress never had any doubt that her rendition of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” was going to be anything but spectacular. When it came time, Bareilles knocked it out of the park and gave us goosebumps.

I caught up with Sara to talk about playing the iconic character and of course, we had a brief chat about hosting the Tony Awards next month.

Watching Jesus Christ Superstar was brilliant and it was the best way to spend Easter Sunday. What was it like for you especially after the credits had rolled?

I loved it so much. We were all a little euphoric because it was such a huge undertaking. It had been so many weeks of rehearsals and preparation. I joked that it felt like the half-time Superbowl show for musical theater. There’s all this preparation and you get one shot. There’s adrenalin involved and there’s also this beautiful community amongst the cast and crew. We really had a loving environment and we were so excited o be doing it in the first place and when it was over everyone was so proud.

Did you have pre-show jitters for this one?

I was definitely nervous but actually, I was more nervous for the very first dress rehearsal. I was shaking in my boots and I forgot lines, forgot my blocking and I was a mess. I was glad to get that out of that way because it can only get out of the way.

Exactly.

We had an awesome leader in John. He was so calm, cool, genuine and excited. It felt like, “If Jesus isn’t freaking out, then I can relax.” It was such a joy and one of my favorite artistic experiences of my whole life. I just loved it.

You’re playing Mary Magdelene and playing someone who is so iconic not just in the show, but in real life. What was that like?

It was a huge thrill. I have loved this show and I was introduced to it when I was very young. I watched it when I was 12 and grew up a really avid consumer and lover of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musicals. Those made up the bulk of what I listened to growing up. It felt like this wild full circle.

To be in rehearsal and have Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber step in the room and give feedback on singing his songs was an unbelievable thrill. This particular version of Mary is so pure in a way. She’s a true reflection of devotion and love for Jesus. She’s protective of him and her strength comes through that. Her power is in her devotion to being of service. I really found that to be inspiring especially as right now as we’re looking at images of powerful women in the world, to remember that powerful women look a lot of different ways. I loved getting to try her on a little bit.

You talked about hearing the musical when you were little, do you remember what you thought the first time you heard it?

I remember being so moved by the music and really weeping watching the scene in Gethsemane and rewinding it. I grew up Catholic and the story of the crucifixion was very much alive in my church life and school and home life. That was really moving to see his story done with such humanity and make him so real.

He’s so mythologized. His figure doesn’t always show how human he is, so I loved that aspect of the show.

How did this happen for you? I also have to say, it’s been magical to see the theater world fully embrace you with Waitress and now this.

This particular invitation came from Marc Platt who I know. He sent me an email and I was in rehearsal for Waitress at the time. I was about to go back into the show. I got an email on my five-minute break and couldn’t write back to him fast enough, “Yes! Are you crazy? Of course, I want to do this!” It was so fast and the deal was done in a day. There was nothing but excitement on my side of the table.

Your performance of “I don’t know how to love him” was the definition of perfection. How did you approach that song?

Thank you. My philosophy was if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I just wanted to give a simple and truthful interpretation. The song is beautifully written. I didn’t feel like I personally needed to add a lot of embellishments or anything. I know as a writer when there’s a song that’s very familiar, sometimes the impulse as a singer can be to “Oh, I have to change it so I feel that it’s mine.” As a writer, it’s so nice when someone honors the language you created because all of those notes were chosen on purpose. It’s not that I didn’t stray, I really wanted to honor the beautiful songs by Andrew and Tim.

Talking about performing. How did this differ from doing your own songs?

This particular evening was nothing like I’d ever experienced before. Every part of it was its own little beast. You had the television component, the theatrical element. You had the rock concert element and it was this interesting hybrid of all different approaches. Each that I’ve had experience with but not all at once and os there was this really unique energy in the air that night. It was unforgettable that way. You could feel the adrenaline which was pumping. I feel honored that we got to join the ranks of everybody who’s done this. There’s only been a handful so it was really cool.

What numbers were you looking forward to seeing?

There are so many. The bookends of the show. The overture to Heaven on their mind was great. Brandon’s numbers were pretty spectacular and then Jesus Christ Superstar at the end.

For me, the real jewel of the show is ‘Gethsemane’ and getting to hear John interpret that show so heartbreakingly beautiful that was a real privilege to get to witness and watch him go through that emotional journey.

You’re going to be hosting the Tonys in June. How does that feel?

It’s so amazing and this beautiful embrace from this community that has absolutely changed my life in every shape and form. I know Josh Groban and I feel so lucky to have been so warmly welcomed into the theater community. We were both theater nerds growing up. We started out in musical theater, took left turns and it feels an absolute joy to come home to a theatrical stage. We’re taking the approach of let us celebrate you and showcase how magical this world is. I’m so excited.

What were the songs you could belt out when you were a kid?

I was obsessed with Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Les Mis. Anything from Oklahoma, The Sound of Music. I loved the score from Chess. There was a period of time when I knew that score word for word. Miss Saigon. Secret Garden was a favorite growing up.

Waitress is coming to LA. I’m psyched.

I can’t believe it. We just celebrated our second anniversary. When we set out on this little journey with the show we never imagined it would have such a vibrant life. We’re so grateful to the fans. I keep saying it. Thank you to our Waitress fans you are unbelievably supportive it’s incredible.