It was a "tad warm" for Al Roker Friday night. But the dapper "Today" show weatherman was delivering lines, not the forecast, opening a six-week stint in the long-running musical "Waitress."
Roker, a true trouper who had emergency carpal tunnel surgery Monday, was greeted with major applause and cheers every time he entered as Joe, the curmudgeonly but good-hearted owner of the pie shop that, per the script, never had the air conditioning cranked up quite high enough.
Roker has plenty of stage experience off the "Today" show set. He and Natalie Morales did a cameo in "Aladdin" a couple years back and there was a one-night appearance as the Mystery Guest in "The Play What I Wrote." Frequently playing himself, Roker's made numerous appearances on TV series ("30 Rock," "Will and Grace") and movies (who could forget all those "Sharknado"s?).
But his part in "Waitress" is pivotal, with five scenes and a tender song, "Take It From an Old Man," he sings to Jenna (Nicolette Robinson, who joined the cast last month and is the first woman of color to play the lead in the Sara Bareilles musical). He worked with a vocal coach because, as he noted when the casting was first announced, “as a singer, I’m a terrific weatherman.”
Roker had a more than supportive audience for his opening night in the form of many of his NBC colleagues, among them co-anchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, Kathie Lee Gifford and Craig Melvin.
"He’s amazing," said Guthrie during intermission. While she suspected he might be a bit nervous, "he isn’t showing it on stage." She praised his stamina, noting that Roker wasn’t giving up his day job while doing six shows a week on Broadway (he’s not performing Saturday or Sunday matinees). A beaming Guthrie said she was not at all surprised by Roker's performance. "We all know what a good actor he is," she said. "He’s an inspiration."