For all the platinum albums and Grammys that he’s accrued, being a performer is what really revs Jason Mraz’s creative engine. And it’s something he’s been doing on Broadway, playing the role of Dr. Jim Pomatter in the Sara Bareilles musical, Waitress, during a 10-week run that started on Nov. 3 and runs through Feb. 11. For someone who lives to play before a crowd, it’s the perfect opportunity for Mraz to put a twist on doing something he lives for.
“It’s been a dream gig that I never thought would come in my lifetime, but I’m so glad it did. It’s a blast. As a performer, the greatest part is just being able to perform. With Broadway, you get to do it eight times a week and you don’t have to travel. You don’t have to sleep on a bus or an airplane. You just go to the same place every day and perform to an excited crowd. There’s no better deal than that,” Mraz explained. “I get to leave Jason Mraz upstairs in the dressing room and I get to be Dr. Pomatter and sing his songs that were written by Sara [Bareilles] and that’s a joy too as a performer because when I have to do my show, I have to figure out my set list and what the narrative and story that my audience is going to go through. There’s so much ego, narcissism and neuroses that goes into being a performing songwriter and I get to put all that aside and go downstairs and just be a performer, which is all I ever wanted to do in the first place. So this is a thrill.”
Born and raised in Mechanicsville, VA, Mraz is back in New York City on a temporary full-time basis for the first time since the mid-1990s, when he was attending the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. He’s found the second time around to be fulfilling and certainly more lucrative.
“When I was 18, I did come here for music theater school and I spent a year here from the summer of 1995 to the summer of 1996. But I dropped out of school immediately and I just started playing guitar and being wowed by drummer circles, poets and guitar players in Washington Square Park and Central Park. I didn’t have a dime in my pocket. I was working in Barnes & Noble bookstore up on 81st or 82nd Street on the Upper West Side. I was spending all my free time at the park and I decided instead of being competitive and auditioning for jobs, I was just going to write my own songs and play in the park or a coffee shop, because it was instant,” he recalled. “Since then, I’ve come back a lot to play in all the theaters in the city and I’ve spent time here as a vacationer and a tourist visiting friends. But to be here with a job feels very special. I’m not just hanging out. I’m here with a purpose. I’ve got a little walking around money in my pocket, which doesn’t hurt and which I didn’t have when I was 18. I feel very privileged. I know it’s such a rare opportunity that this is for anyone. It feels pretty darn special.”
Mraz first met Waitress composer Bareilles back at the 2009 Grammys, when both performers were nominated (and subsequently lost) while attending with their respective moms. It was a fortuitous meeting that led to greater things down the road.
“We’d both known each other through the radio scene and some mutual friends, but that was the night that we actually met. And I found out how hilarious, kind and down-to-earth she is and we’ve been acquaintances since then,” Mraz said. “We’ve become friends more in the last couple of years through the community and obviously even closer now that we’ve been collaborating on this show.”
Once his Broadway run ends, the Virginia native is primed to ideally release his first new album since 2014’s Yes! Extensive touring, both solo and with a band, also promises to fill up the rest of 2018. Suffice it to say, between his creative successes, the Mraz Family Farm (My wife and I practice regenerative agriculture and we do the best we can to make the farm itself sustainable—environmentally and economically. It’s a new passion project,”), and the Jason Mraz Foundation (“We spent all of last year, digging and digging into more than 100 programs in San Diego to see what exists and to see where there’s a need. This year, we are partnering and staffing and in 2019, we’ll be launching some programs in San Diego”), the singer-songwriter feels he’s in a really good place in his career.
“[My label and I] know that this show has brought a lot of attention and awareness to us, so we shouldn’t wait any longer. It’s been four years since I put an album out, so I better get to it,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of great songs and I’ve been performing every summer for the last three years. I have a lot of new material. I just haven’t made the time to record and organize them until now.”
Jason Mraz will be appearing in Waitress through Feb. 11 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St., NYC. Visit www.brooksatkinsontheatretickets.com or call 212-966-3232 for more information.