30 Rock Alum Jack McBrayer on Jane Krakowski's Stage Advice & His West End Debut in Waitress

30 Rock Alum Jack McBrayer on Jane Krakowski's Stage Advice & His West End Debut in Waitress
Jack McBrayer
(Provided by The Corner Shop PR)

Jack McBrayer tickled the funny bones of TV watchers with his career-defining performance as Kenneth the Page on NBC's 30 Rock. Now, marking a change of pace and of scene, the Georgia-born, L.A.-based actor has crossed the Atlantic to make his musical-theater debut in the London premiere of Sara Bareilles' Waitress, currently previewing prior to a March 7 opening at the Adelphi Theatre. Broadway.com caught the entirely delightful McBrayer early one recent evening to discuss what it's like to eat British pies, sing and face the critics.

Are you amazed to find yourself first in a musical and then in London?
Yes to both! There had been some interest in my perhaps doing a New York run [in Waitress] but that would have been January to March, and I already knew what New York was like from January to March. I'm an L.A. boy, so that isn't for me.

Is London that much warmer?
[laughs] I know London is not known for its sunny, balmy weather but it just lined up better for me to give this a try here. It's scary, sure, but the opportunity to do [Waitress] in London sounded fun. I thought, let me see if I can do this, and if y'all make me leave London tomorrow, well, at least I did something that I set out to do.

How have you been finding the previews so far?
Well, let me say first of all that I have the best scene partner, Laura Baldwin, who plays Dawn and is phenomenal; she's just so fun to play off. But I think, as well, that one thing this has taught me is that you cannot fake talent. On camera, you can have a pretty person who edits well but theater audiences hear every note and they see everything, so the talent has to be there!

Was this a whirlwind decision?
You could say that! I found out I was doing this mid-December and I landed [in London] on January 6! I like structure and order in my life so the fact that I said yes surprises me still. It helped that whatever projects I have been working on in L.A. can remain active so here I am through June, and I'm excited that the weather will get progressively better.

Have you braced yourself in case we have another heatwave as we did last year?
I was here in 2015 for three weeks or so during a heat wave and it was adorable. Everyone was laying out in every available square and I was like, "y'all are so precious; this is like Tuesday in L.A."

How much did you know about Waitress beforehand?
Next to nothing, to be absolutely honest with you. I haven't been in New York since 2013/14 so this was all very new to me: I was sent a copy of a video of Waitress, which was a bit of a bootleg so I couldn't entirely tell who I was watching but I am fairly sure it was Mr. Fitzgerald [Christopher Fitzgerald, who was nominated for a Tony for his performance] who was just incredible to watch and I did find myself saying, "Y'all know I can't do everything that person does. At the end of the day, I am singing a song and it does have notes in it." [laughs]

An obvious question: what about your singing?
I think we all know that I am not known for my singing voice. But everyone has been very accommodating and fortunately, there's a level of forgiveness to Ogie that exists within the character itself. That said, I didn't want to show up dumbstruck, but I think having a background in comedy when you're performing a comic role does help me sleep at night.

Katharine McPhee in a promo shot as Jenna in "Waitress"
(Provided by The Corner Shop PR)

Has it been comforting to have a fellow American star in Katharine McPhee [an alumna of the musical on Broadway who is opening it here]?
Absolutely: it's nice to have an American cohort where you can grab each other's hands and go, "I'm so tired," or "I can’t find a Mexican restaurant." But the difference is that Katharine is absolutely a singer and a gorgeous one, and we all know that. And please put in how much I adore my cast: this has been a herky-jerky process—so fast and furious—and they've been my saving grace every step of the way.

Was theater part of the conversation on set at 30 Rock, given any number of actors on the show—from Alec Baldwin to Elaine Stritch—for whom the stage was a second home?
Not so much, though there were people who would do theater during our hiatus. But because I'm based in L.A., I enjoyed going home, so I was out of New York at the exact time I could have been dipping a toe into the New York theater. During the actual shoot, we used to have so many Broadway actors joining us, and what a wonderful pool of talent they are. It's due to [30 Rock] that I have a personal relationship with Sara [Bareilles]: she appeared during our third season, in 2009.

 

Jack McBrayer & Jane Krakowski
(Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

Did you seek advice on London theater from your 30 Rock co-star Jane Krakowski [who headlined a 2005 West End revival of Guys and Dolls]?
Yes, Jane made me do it [laughs]; we can blame Jane! In fact, I did talk to Jane before I said yes to this job. I thought it would be good to get an American opinion about being in London and on the London stage and I knew that she wouldn't have led me astray. This is something that is new and scary for me, and she would certainly have let me know if she thought it was in any way too hard or dangerous or undo-able.

Does playing Ogie allow you to draw on any of the theater work you did toward the start of your career with Second City in Chicago?
You know, this job isn't so different that it's jarring. Second City was all about physical comedy and trying out new characters and that sort of thing, so I've found myself here revisiting things I remember doing all those years ago. Even Kenneth the Page—ridiculous borderline cartoon though he was—allowed me to go to the fun, playful, whacked-out side of performance, which isn't all that different from what's required here.

In a show about pies, have you found time to sample the range of British pies?
I've been in a bit of a rut with my eating schedule and haven't had a proper Sunday roast yet. But I've had some British pies and they are good. We went to a place called Mother Mash and there they were shoving pies down my gullet; they were great!

Are you feeling part of the larger West End community, especially with other American titles like 9 to 5 and Come From Away also hitting the West End just now, as well?
I've had so little time to focus on what else is happening, though after we open, it will be great to get out a bit and head to some of the theater social clubs that I'm told we have access to during the run. But for most of the time I've been here, it's been "Head down, move here, stand there!" Once we open, I can go to a museum or Kew Gardens or Primark; up to now, I've not had time to scratch my own butt!

Speaking of opening, are you nervous about facing the London theater critics?
[laughs] You know what, I'm really not. I've had so many bad reviews in my life that it's like, well, life goes on.