Sara Bareilles Knows She's Making Smash Dreams Come True With Katharine McPhee in Waitress

She played a Broadway hopeful on TV, now Katharine McPhee is making her (and those of Smash fans) dreams come true

By Chris Harnick Apr 10, 2018 3:05 PMTags
Watch: Sara Bareilles Gushes Over Katharine McPhee's Broadway Pivot

Smash is real, you guys. Sort of. Six years after playing Karen Cartwright, a Broadway ingénue on NBC's critically-adored and lambasted musical drama, current Scorpion star Katharine McPhee makes her debut on the Great White Way in Waitress. McPhee is taking over the role of Jenna, originally played by Jessie Mueller on stage and Keri Russell on screen, until June.

"I found out this last December," McPhee told E! News' Sibley Scoles at Paw Works' 4th Annual Ties & Tails Gala. "I was elated…I have been practicing the songs for months before people even knew that I was going to be in this show."

Stars on Stage: Broadway & Beyond
Watch: Katharine McPhee Talks Broadway Debut

In Smash, McPhee played a struggling actress who got her big break in Bombshell, a musical based on Marilyn Monroe. Her character eventually left the show and joined Hit List and was nominated for a Tony. The award went to Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty), Karen's longtime rival who took over the role in Bombshell.

Waitress, the stage musical, is based on the movie of the same name from Adrienne Shelly, with a book by Jessie Nelson and music and lyrics from Sara Bareilles. Bareilles, who has also played the role twice on stage and recently starred in NBC's Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, told E! News, "I'm thrilled to be making the Smash fans happy."

"We're so grateful to have Katharine come in. She's so exciting—what a great singer," Bareilles said.

While in Los Angeles at an event, Bareilles said she was watching TV in the green room and she couldn't tell who was singing, but "I just heard this voice and I was like, ‘Who is that?!' and then I found out it was Kat and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.' It was sort of like my reintroduction to her after so many years," she said. "So this is exciting. She's going to kill it and I think she's going to have a wonderful time, which is always the thing I get so excited about."

McPhee has been throwing it back to her time on Smash on Twitter in advance of her Broadway debut, noting Karen Cartwright is "shook."

Jesus Christ Superstar Live: See John Legend, Sara Bareilles and More in All Their Musical Glory
Walter McBride/Getty Images

Smash lasted just two seasons, but its legacy lives on—and could be headed to the stage itself. "Smash may have invented the concept of hate-watching," NBC's Robert Greenblatt joked to Variety. "Interestingly enough, I hear more about people loving Smash now than I ever did when it was on the air."

"We've been thinking about different ways to think about a stage musical based on Bombshell or Smash," Greenblatt said. "That's all I'll say. There's an incarnation which could sort of combine both…You may not have seen the last of Smash yet. I think the next incarnation will be on stage."

As for Waitress coming to TV a la Jesus Christ Superstar, well, never say never. Bareilles said she's unsure if it would ever happen, but "it would be thrilling."

"That show is so near and dear to my heart and has really changed my life in so many ways. I love the story, and I really think it's a really powerful story about a woman sort of finding her voice again…it's timely and really beautiful…I would love to," Bareilles told us. "Let's make it happen!"