Back when Katharine McPhee was a contestant on “American Idol” in 2006, she had a mishap singing the Motown hit “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” — she forgot the lyrics.
Now the singer and actress is getting a chance to redeem herself, pie-wise, by joining the cast of the musical “Waitress” at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. In her Broadway debut, she plays woebegone pie maker Jenna, following in the footsteps of Jessie Mueller, who originated the role, and Sara Bareilles, who composed the score and recently starred. McPhee began last week and appears through June 17.
Though McPhee didn’t win that “Idol” competition (she was runner-up), she went on to record albums, co-starred in the NBC series “Smash” and now plays Paige, the mother of a genius son, on CBS’ action series “Scorpion.”
A Los Angeles native, McPhee is currently dating music producer David Foster, and is devoted to her two Chihuahuas.
We know you can sing, and act. But can you bake pie?
You know . . . [She laughs.] I’ve actually made a good pie once or twice in my life. About two Thanksgivings ago, I got this amazing crust recipe. That’s always been my favorite part of pie. A friend of mine gave me the recipe. It’s a vodka pie crust.
Yeah. It doesn’t taste like that. There’s a minimal amount of vodka. But something about the alcohol creates this really flaky, amazing crust. I made it once and it was seriously the best pie ever.
Have you spoken to Sara Bareilles and gotten any tips?
I got to see the show when she was in it about two months ago. And I got to chat with her a bit. [Over the phone comes a high-pitched, chirp-like sound.] She just mentioned how, in terms of the show being difficult . . . [There’s that chirping sound again.] Oh, sorry, that’s my little dog coughing. Where was I? Oh, the props. It’s a props on props on props show. If you watch Jenna onstage, she’s constantly moving things around, and it’s very specific. When I move something across from one side of the diner to the other, it’s for a purpose — like for someone to pick up later in the scene.
So you have to be precise.
It’s difficult to remember it all. I’d forgotten how different theater is from anything else I’ve done. I mean, I haven’t been in a [stage musical] since I was 20. And I’ve never done Broadway, period. [The dog coughs again.] Ohhh, Larry . . . sorry, buddy.
Is that the same dog you had on the set of “Smash?” I interviewed you then and you always had two little Chihuahuas nearby.
Yeah. I unfortunately lost one. I adopted another little Chihuahua, so I still have two. The one who’s coughing is one of the dogs you met, Larry. He’s hanging in there. He’s got a little heart condition that makes him cough all the time but . . . he’s my little buddy. I have so much on my plate — it’s not the easiest to be worrying about the dog at the same time.
Once you’re in the rhythm of the show, doing it over and over, it’ll get easier.
Right. That’s why I’m walking through the streets, reciting my lines. Or saying these pie recipes that Jenna comes up with, repeating them over and over. [She laughs.] Nobody cares in New York anyway.
I love how the pies have crazy names, expressing how Jenna feels about life.
Yeah. I’m walking down the street, saying [she adopts Jenna’s Midwest accent] . . . “Jumpin’ Without a Net Bottomless Pie.”
This must be an intriguing time for you — there you were on “Smash” portraying Karen, a Broadway hopeful dying to get onstage. Now it’s happening for real.
Yeah. It’s like Karen Cartwright is finally coming into fruition. In a perfect world, I would’ve loved “Smash” to last for . . . God, 10 years.
Well, you’re doing pretty well on “Scorpion.” That’s been four seasons now.
Yeah. We have a great cast and crew.
Of course, it’s an adventure show. Not much call for music. Do you miss not singing as much as you used to?
It’s a different gig. I love that we get to do comedy on “Scorpion.” There’s serious stuff, but there are comedic moments on the show. We’re really not like a cold, standard procedural anymore. But I do miss the singing. It’s part of me. It was the first thing I loved to do growing up. It’s something I desire to do every day — even just on my own. That’s why I’m eager to look for things, like this show. It’s a good way to . . . keep those muscles stretched.