The TV personality is no stranger to entertaining crowds—and has even graced the stage before—but his new role as Joe (of the eponymous Joe's Pie Diner) in the Sara Bareilles musical brings a variety of new challenges, from a demanding Broadway schedule to showing off his singing chops.
On the eve of his first official day of rehearsal, Roker chatted with Playbill, sharing his thoughts on trading in Doppler radar for sugar, butter, and flour. Take a look at the interview below.
You're less than two weeks out from your official Broadway debut! How do you feel?
Well, a lot more nervous now that you've pointed it out that way. Good grief! I hadn't thought about that. Let me just mark that down on the calendar...
Nerves can be healthy for a performer, no matter how experienced you are.
If you're not nervous about stuff, you're not excited about it. And then you're taking it for granted. I still get nervous every morning when either Savannah [Guthrie] or Hoda [Kotb] says, "And now, let's get our first check of the weather with Al Roker." Because I'm thinking, "I could blow this whole thing right here." But that's what anybody who loves what they do feels.
You've at least experienced that sensation of being on a Broadway stage in some cameo appearances. How does the feeling of seeing your audience compare to talking to people across the country via TV?
There's this rush when you look out and you get a laugh from an audience. It's just, wow. It's crazy. We kind of get the best of both worlds on The Today Show because we've got our Plaza audience. They're two different animals, but both exciting in their own right. But I've only done it on stage on a one-time basis each time. This is going to be a different kind of experience.
Right, that Broadway schedule is no joke. How do you plan to balance that with The Today Show?
I haven't figured that out yet. We'll see. Check with me in a couple weeks!
As daunting as that process might be, what excited you the most about the prospect of joining a musical?
It's kind of like what we do on The Today Show, in that it's an ensemble. It's a family. And this is me trying something new for the first time, so you don't know what to expect. I guess that's what I'm most looking forward to: finding out what this is going to be like. Because right now, I don't know.
Tomorrow [September 25] will be my first day of rehearsals. Never having done this, I don't know quite how that works. That'll be fun to find out. We don't rehearse The Today Show [laughs].
Before your rehearsals begin, you've worked with [vocal coach] Deric Rosenblatt a bit.
I'm still working with him. It's funny, because somebody recommended him, and I thought, "Oh, great." And then I started hearing from people. When I tell them, "I'm working with this guy Deric," they're like, "Deric Rosenblatt? You're working with Deric Rosenblatt? How did that happen?!" He's such a delightful guy. I love him.
How did you feel about your singing before working with him?
My singing before? I really sucked!
And where are you now?
Now? I'm barely passable. So that's an improvement!
What sorts of techniques is he teaching you?
We're doing those voice exercises [imitates singing scales]. That stuff. And also pacing. And he's reminding me to relax and have fun.
You'll soon be surrounded by pie, but I know you also have a passion for sandwiches. Do you see a through line between this and your series Cold Cuts?
The only difference is on Cold Cuts, we don't sing, and we don't wear costumes. At the end of the day, the one common denominator everyone has is food. Everybody eats.
Roker will play a limited engagement through November 11; he is not scheduled to appear during Saturday and Sunday matinees. The current cast also includes Nicolette Robinson (through October 28), Drew Gehling, Katie Lowes, Adam Shapiro, Ben Thompson, NaTasha Yvette Williams, and Benny Elledge.