In the Peacock comedy Girls5eva, singers Sara Bareilles and Renee Elise Goldsberry join actors Busy Philipps and Paula Pell as a singing group. It’s Bareilles’ first lead appearance in a scripted TV series, and the 41-year-old singer says mounting the stage production Waitress and starring in it on Broadway helped train her.
“I have to say, getting up at 4 in the morning on a regular basis is not my favorite thing,” Bareilles said on a Television Critics Association Zoom panel. “People who are a part of the theater understand the stamina of that.”
Girls5eva was a one-hit wonder of the series in the late 1990s. Dawn (Bareilles), Wickie (Goldsberry), Gloria (Pell), Summer (Philipps), and Ashley make up the quintet (Ashley Park).
Ashley died not long after the band disbanded. She can also be seen in flashbacks, where Erika Henningsen also plays young Gloria. In 2021, a musician samples one of Girls5eva’s tracks, prompting the remaining four to reunite.
“It’s comedy, music, and female empowerment,” Bareilles said.
Invincible Meredith Scardino, the creator of Kimmy Schmidt, founded Girls5eva. Executive producers are Tina Fey and Robert Carlock.
Fey stated that they were open to casting actors and training them to sing. They did, however, attempt to sign Bareilles and Goldsberry first. The display now makes use of their abilities.
“It’s so great when they just sing for a second,” Fey said. “It’s real and it’s happening in real time.”
From 1997 to 2002, Goldsberry, 50, sang backup for Vonda Shepard on the TV show Ally McBeal for five seasons. Goldsberry has been on Broadway, most notably in the plays Rent and Hamilton.
Goldsberry said that she enjoyed the humour of Girls5eva. Wickie is the group’s showboat, so she gets to show off musically.
“Playing Wickie, you have an excuse to hold the notes a little bit longer than you’re supposed to,” Goldsberry said. “No one really thinks you’re a jerk when you try to steal the show.”
Philipps and Pell had to keep up with the trained singers as their co-stars. Philipps said both she and her character are riding the other singers’ coattails.
“I can sing pretty and loud, but it’s probably going to be just the note that the person next to me is singing,” Philipps said.
The 58-year-old Pell said she was humbled to even be performing with Bareilles and Goldsberry. For her part in the group’s harmony, Pell said she concentrates on singing low notes.
“I’m good at holding down the alto line like an anchor,” Pell said.
The 41-year-old Philipps said her singing improved with each episode.
“As the season went on, I got so much better at it because it’s an exercise,” Philipps said. “I wasn’t used to using that particular instrument.”
Jeff Richmond writes Girls5eva’s songs. Some of their original ’90s songs satirize the Spice Girls’ girl power motif.
“Dream Girlfriend” includes lyrics stating that they’re the perfect girlfriends because their fathers are dead, so you’ll never have to meet him. Later, they sing about asking a boy to explain Quentin Tarantino’s genius to them. Bareilles was impressed by Richmond’s ability to make jokes work as songs.
“It’s very hard to do to make slightly ridiculous things sing,” Bareilles said. “Like, I don’t know what rhymes with pizza.”
The arc of Season 1 is partly about the women reconnecting and finding success again. Bareilles said another part is seeing them re-evaluate the songs they used to sing.
“They’re finding their voice and finding their own empowered presence of mind,” Bareilles said.
In addition to the message of their songs, the members of Girls5eva realize they were sexualized as teenagers. Philipps, who made her debut on the teen dramedy Freaks and Geeks, said she related to Girls5eva’s message.
“I didn’t want to do Maxim,” Philipps said. “I think the show deals with all of these things subversively.”
Girls5eva premieres Thursday on Peacock with all eight Season 1 episodes.