By Jacqueline Parker
April 18, 2022
Six years ago, Waitress debuted on Broadway and quickly became one of the smash hits of the season, and one of the longest-running Broadway performances of recent years. Written and composed by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles (“Brave” and 2007’s “Love Song”), the story of down-on-her-luck waitress, Jenna Hunterson, has endeared audiences worldwide and comes to Charlotte’s Booth Playhouse for a five-week limited engagement.
Around the time Bareilles was creeping up the Billboard charts (“Love Song” made it to No. 4 in 2007), Waitress the movie, starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion, made its debut in theaters. It was released to mostly positive reviews. Audiences and critics both loved the wholesome earnestness of the story, although it may have come as bittersweet for some. The film’s writer and director, Adrienne Shelly, was found dead less than a year before its release. Shelly’s legacy continues and shines in the hearts of audiences everywhere in both her film credits as an actor and behind the scenes as a director.
In 2013, a musical adaptation of Shelly’s film was announced, with Bareilles in talks to score. She joined screenwriter Jessie Nelson, Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus, and choreographer Lorin Latarro in a history-making lineup. It premiered in 2016 and marked the first time in Broadway where women occupied all four primary creative positions in a production.
The role of Jenna Hunterson first went to Jessie Mueller (Beautiful), who served as lead until 2017. A number of actors, including Bareilles herself and Katherine McPhee, played Jenna over the years, both on Broadway and in more limited tours including London’s West End. And, while Bareilles did revive her role as Jenna in September 2021, she does not return for a slice of the pie this time around.
Actress, Stephanie Torns, might be most appropriate in her role of the small town waitress. Torns understudied in the role back in 2015 at the American Repertory Theater before Waitress hit Broadway, where she then starred in various supporting and ensemble roles. If anything, Torns is a classic example of having the courage to dream big and aim high, just as the character does on stage.
An expert baker, Jenna Hunterson works at Joe’s Diner, where she serves up interesting and flavorful pie combinations. Her pies are true labors of love whose ingredients often mirror what’s going on in her real life. Outside of the diner, Jenna is trapped in an abusive and loveless marriage, finds herself pregnant, and feels the rolling pin of reality pressing down on her.
Jenna’s pregnancy serves as the catalyst for newfound bravery and passion. She meets Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart, whose resemblance to Nathan Fillion from the film is uncanny), enters a pie contest, and plans to leave her husband Earl (Matt DeAngelis). Her plight joins that of her friends and co-workers, Becky (Olivia Phillip) and Dawn (Kendyl Ito), who experience their own trials and tribulations with love.
The plot is paired with Bareilles’ original music, for which she was nominated for a Tony. Of the twenty-plus songs that appeared in the 2016 Broadway run, best known might be Jenna’s solo of “She Used to be Mine.” Against the other upbeat, almost cheeky songs in the catalog, this one is reflective, emotive, and encapsulates the entire production in a mere four minutes.
Waitress features a host of archetypes we’re all familiar with in some fashion: small town, big dreams, good girl, bad guy. Jenna’s story isn’t unlike many of our own, and that is perhaps what captivates audiences time and time again. Here’s a woman on the verge of upending everything in her life to achieve something better for herself. Throw in a dash of comedy and a sprinkle of quirky supporting cast members, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for Broadway success.
Waitress plays in Charlotte at Booth Playhouse from April 19 – May 22. Check out the showtimes and use promo code CLTure for 15% off tickets.
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