A handful of years before the #MeToo movement turned the spotlight on female empowerment, Broadway shattered the glass ceiling when Waitress announced an all-female creative team. It was a Broadway first.
Photo by Matt Murphy.
The groundbreaking quartet of women responsible for whipping Waitress into one of Broadway’s top grossing shows is Tony-winning director Diane Paulus (Pippin; Finding Neverland; Hair); six-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles, the musical mastermind behind the show’s Tony-nominated score; Jessie Nelson (Corrina, Corrina), who adapted the show’s script from Adrienne Shelley’s 2007 breakout film; and Julliard-trained choreographer Lorin Latarro (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time).
“I’m thrilled that Waitress is breaking boundaries as the first Broadway musical with book, score, choreography, and direction by a team of women,” said Paulus when the show opened in 2016, adding, “It’s a historic and long overdue moment for Broadway, and I’m honored to be working alongside such passionate and inspiring women.”
Photo by Matt Murphy.
Theatergoers eyeing the last weeks of November to see Waitress have a choice between two “passionate and inspiring women” in the lead role of Jenna: Grammy-nominated/certified platinum singer-songwriter and actress Jordin Sparks, who ends her extended run on Sunday, November 24th; and Katharine McPhee, whose impressive career (including work on TV series Smash and Scorpion) launched during Season 5 of American Idol, leading to a series of hit albums and the smash single “Over It.” McPhee—a return Jenna—begins performances on November 25th.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
(And FYI, you can catch Today personality Al Roker in the character of “Joe” at evening performances through the 24th.)
Jenna, the big-hearted nexus at the heart of the show, waits tables at a small-town diner. Her lousy marriage to an abusive husband is counterbalanced by her ability to bake amazing pies with names that reflect her life’s cockeyed trajectory—“White Knuckle Cream Pie,” e.g.—and a circle of supporters, especially fellow waitresses prickly Becky and nerdy Dawn.
The show’s story line finds Jenna finessing her way through various emotions once she learns she’s pregnant (“Betrayed by My Eggs Pie”), and her imperfect day-to-day existence becomes a showdown of emotions and decisions. Tell or don’t tell/dump or don’t dump Earl (“My Husband’s a Jerk Chicken Pot Pie”)? Have an affair/don’t have an affair (“Pursuit of Happiness Pie”) with her married OB-GYN? Enter the National Pie Bake Off in a nearby town (“Jumping Without a Net Bottomless Pie”) that would give her the money to revamp her life (“Getting Out of the Mud Mud Pie”)...or let insecurity stand in the way? (“My pies are good but I’m no Sara Lee,” Jenna argues.)
Indeed, doubts, fears, and insecurities haunt pretty much all the characters inhabiting this uniquely human and wonderfully uplifting musical. In the end, it’s a contemporary musical about imperfect people seeking happiness in large or small doses, and the highs and lows they encounter along the way. Prominent in this regard is Dawn’s reticence to forego TV dinners for dating, although she eventually gives in to Ogie, an endearing customer so smitten by the self-effacing Dawn that he declares his love with full-blown musical comedy panache in the show-stopping number “Never Getting Rid of Me.” How could Dawn resist?
And while true romance may elude some of the show’s key characters, love does not—which makes Waitress one of those remarkable, heartwarming Broadway success stories, told by women, but with universal appeal. And wait till you get to the final scene...Spoiler alert: it’s a lulu!
The Sweet Smell of Temptation
Apparently, it’s not enough that diner-inspired towers of luscious-looking pies flank either side of the Brooks Atkinson stage—a heartless study in diet assassination if ever there was one. The provocateur producers opted to up Waitress’s mouth-watering ante with an olfactory enticement that’s simultaneously evil and delicious—a kind of “surround smell” wafting from the theatre’s entryway.
Indeed, not long after Waitress opened, producer Barry Weissler confessed to “desperately” wanting the baking aroma to be part of the experience. And, as it happens, the best way to achieve a genuine pie scent (apple, of course) was to install a convection oven just outside the orchestra seating area. Thankfully, pie is available for purchase at intermission.
Waitress is playing at Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St. For tickets
call 877-250-2929 or visit waitressthemusical.com.