Interview with Smash and American Idol star Katharine McPhee
Ever since finishing runner-up in the fifth season of "American Idol" in 2006, Katharine McPhee has been a household name in the United States. She has released a total of five studio albums to date from her eponymous debut album in 2007 through to last year's "I Fall in Love Too Easily" - her own take on a collection of beautiful, American Jazz standards - and TV audiences still get to enjoy her recurring role as Paige Dineen on the CBS series "Scorpion," in which she has starred since 2014.
It was in 2012, however, when she won the hearts of the Broadway community when she won the leading role of Karen Cartwright in NBC's much-loved, Broadway-centric musical series "Smash". Her renditions of the show's 11 o'clock numbers such as "Let Me Be Your Star" and "Don't Forget Me" have surely earned their place on Broadway aficionado's playlists all over the country. Ever since "Smash", fans have been longing for Ms. McPhee to make her Broadway debut and we are happy to report that the wait is over. She was no stranger to musical theatre early on in her career, even earning a nomination for a Los Angeles Stage Ovation Award in the category of "Lead Actress in a Musical" for her portrayal of Annie Oakley in a 2005 Cabrillo Music Theater production of Annie Get Your Gun, but now she will finally grace the Great White Way and assume the lead role of Jenna in Broadway's hit musical Waitress at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Her special limited engagement begins on April 10 and runs through to June 17, 2018.
We recently caught up with Ms. McPhee to chat about her eagerly anticipated Broadway debut...
Your face is currently plastered all over Times Square and all over Manhattan to promote your Broadway debut in Waitress. Can you describe that first feeling when you see your own face on a billboard in Times Square?
Well, it was a true gift to be asked to be a part of the show. I certainly wasn’t expecting to have my face plastered all over Times Square, so that was a plus! My own little ego got a little boost, seeing my face attached to a show that I love. It was a very surreal and humbling experience.
Sara Bareilles tweeted the announcement that you would be taking on the role of Jenna in Waitress. Has she had any words of wisdom for you, having played the role twice before herself?
Sara’s very busy with her own projects like Jesus Christ Superstar Live, so I haven’t had a lot of communication with her, but I did run into her at a couple of non-Waitress-related events and I have actually gone to see a couple of her shows. I did have a brief, half an hour with her backstage when she was still doing the role and I got to ask a few basic questions and I got to enjoy her in the role.
So, it’s been about 5 years since “Smash” finished its run. Has there been a lot of peer pressure from the Broadway community for you to make a Broadway debut since then?
I don’t know if it was peer pressure, but actually since “American Idol”, there’s been interest in pushing me towards Broadway and I was offered a couple of shows here and there. But I just didn’t ever really feel overly excited about the particular show or role. I wanted to be really excited about it. When this came up, I knew the song from the Tony Awards when Jessie Mueller sang it with Sara Bareilles and then I fell in love with the rest of the show. People have always said: “You should do Broadway!” and I knew that, but it’s not just a matter of ‘doing Broadway’. It’s a matter of doing the right show for you at the right time. I think this is it. This is that special show that is just right for me.
In terms of this role of Jenna then, what do you feel will be the most challenging part and most exciting part of the job?
The most challenging part I think for me – and I can only speak from where I’m at right now, as I’m still in the rehearsal process – is learning about all the props. When you go as an audience member, you’re just enjoying the show. You don’t see how difficult it is, in terms of remembering things, if you’re playing Jenna. She is constantly picking something up and putting it in a particular place. She is on stage for almost the whole 2 hours and 20 minutes. It’s intense how she is constantly moving around, so it’s just a matter of remembering what comes next. But as far as the most exciting part goes, I think when I am really settled and don’t have to think about where I’m going, I’m just looking forward to getting to just live, eat and breathe the role. Another big challenge will be to stay disciplined and not have that extra glass of wine or be too chatty with people after the show. You’ve got to protect your instrument and keep your stamina up.
Waitress Tickets are available now for performances through to December 23, 2018.
(Header photo by Emilio Madrid-Kuser)