LOS ANGELES, May 5 (UPI) -- Singers Sara Bareilles and Renee Elise Goldsberry join actors Busy Philipps and Paula Pell as a singing group in the Peacock comedy, Girls5eva. It is Bareilles's first lead role on a scripted TV series, and the 41-year-old singer said mounting the stage show Waitress and performing in it on Broadway helped prepare 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."
In the series, Girls5eva was a one-hit wonder in the late '90s. The quintet is Dawn (Bareilles), Wickie (Goldsberry), Gloria (Pell), Summer (Philipps) and Ashley (Ashley Park).
Ashley died shortly after the band broke up. She still appears in flashbacks, in which Erika Henningsen also plays young Gloria. When a rapper samples one of Girls5eva's hits in 2021, it inspires the remaining four to reunite.
"It's comedy, music, and female empowerment," Bareilles said.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt writer Meredith Scardino created Girls5eva. Tina Fey and Robert Carlock are executive producers.
Fey said they were willing to cast actors and train them to sing. However, they tried first to land Bareilles and Goldsberry. Now, the show takes advantage of their skills.
"It's so great when they just sing for a second," Fey said. "It's real and it's happening in real time."
The 50-year-old Goldsberry sang backup for Vonda Shepard on five seasons of TV's Ally McBeal from 1997 to 2002. Goldsberry has performed on Broadway, notably in Rent and Hamilton.
Goldsberry said she embraced the comedy of Girls5eva. Wickie is the showboat of the group, which allows her 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.