Star reveals COVID-19 battle
It's been one hell of a rollercoaster year so far for Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles.
But where one door closes, another opens and Bareilles finished that same month by joining the West End cast for what was supposed to be an eight-week, guest-appearance run, as she'd previously done in the US.
Sadly, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Bareilles had to cut her engagement short and hotfoot it back to her New York home before travel restrictions kicked in. And to cap it all off, she caught the illness herself (she made a full recovery) and her country has been thrown into chaos thanks to the virus, protests and political division.
"What a year," says Bareilles via Zoom call from her New York home. "It really has just been such a meditation in groundlessness. Every time I think I sort of know where the bottom is, something else shifts or something even more wild happens.
"This year is by far the most memorable of my life so far. It was a quick left turn to come back from London and I feel so grateful to have had that chapter and be able to celebrate Waitress and the life of that show in such a sweet way. And then to come home and now here we are in our apartments and homes and not able to leave."
The bright spot in this bleak period for the singer who had massive hits with Love Song and Brave, is her first foray into television, Little Voice. Bareilles once again teamed up with her Waitress collaborator, writer-director Jessie Nelson, to create the story and pen music for the charming, nine-part comedy drama, loosely based on her own experiences as a struggling musician in Los Angeles.
They just managed to squeak through post-production - their last day of sound mixing was the day the New York lockdown hit in earnest - and their pair are grateful to be able to bring a little joy into the world when Little Voice drops on Apple TV+ on Friday, just weeks after Broadway was shut down for the rest of the year.
"I can just feel the collective heartbreak of the theatre community but I do think it feels like the right time for this show to be coming out into the world," says Bareilles.
"Jessie and I, from the very beginning of the conception of this show, this was something that we wanted to make that was going to have a lot of heart and hope and really focus on good people who make mistakes but have really sweet spirits about them. And then to jam pack it with music as best we could. So it does feel like a nice time for this particular show."
Adding to the impeccable pedigree of Little Voice is executive producer J.J. Abrams, in a drastic change of pace from the Star Wars and Star Trek sci-fi worlds for which he's become so well known. Bareilles and the Rise Of Skywalker helmer had met at a party in Washington DC and it turned out they were mutual fans: Abrams' daughter had introduced him to Waitress and the singer was a long-time fan of the director's breakout TV series Felicity. The star of that show, Keri Russell, also starred in the film version of Waitress, upon which Bareilles' musical was based, and Felicity's DNA is very much present in Little Voice too.
"That show aired in my freshman year of college so I had a very visceral memory of this young woman who was at the same stage as I was in my evolution and how important those storylines were to me," says Bareilles. "Also how much I was invested in her as a character and watching her make mistakes and be out in the world and that was just me at that time in my life, independent for the first time."
While Little Voice isn't, strictly speaking, autobiographical, there are plenty of parallels between Bareilles and its New Yorker lead character, Bess, played by Brittany O'Grady. Bareilles mined her own life and stories from her close-knit community of struggling singer-songwriter friends to capture the dreams and desperation of an artist trying to find her voice and make a living in the sometimes shady world of music.
"I would say Sara's spirit is everywhere - in every molecule of the show," says Nelson. "Whether it's inspired by a story that she shared or a friend of hers experienced or an anecdote that happened to her. Sara came up in LA and was raised in Eureka, and it's a very different character to Bess, but if you separate character from spirit, her spirit really infused the character."
Bareilles has also roped in some of her creative mates to help with the show: hit maker Jack Antonoff (of Fun and Bleachers fame) has co-written some of the music and Aussie musician Ben Abraham shows up in an episode as a fellow aspiring singer-songwriter. Abraham, who has since collaborated with the likes of Kesha and Demi Lovato, met Bareilles after bombarding her Twitter feed asking to perform with her when she was touring Australia with Maroon 5 and the pair became friends, confidants and collaborators.
"He is still someone I go to with thoughts about the industry and we have a really lovely, longstanding rapport and relationship - and he is one of my favourite singer-songwriters too," she says.
Both Bareilles and Nelson were looking forward to heading to Australia for the production of Waitress that was due to open in Sydney this year then tour the country. That has now been put on hold but rest assured, they will be back as soon as they are able.
"I think we would both love to come down," says Bareilles. "Taking care of Waitress and helping that show have a good life is a huge passion for both Jessie and I. I think we are all just sort of waiting with bated breath on the fate of what is to come. I think we just have to keep our fingers crossed."
Little Voice streams on Apple TV+ from Friday. Songs from the first three episodes are available from Friday on Apple Music.
Originally published as Star reveals COVID-19 battle