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Life of Pie: Breaking Boundaries with Broadway’s Waitress

August 10, 2016 - by Griffin Miller, Theatre Editor
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Well before Hillary Clinton became the first woman to land a major U.S. party’s presidential nomination, the historic sounds of a glass ceiling shattering could be heard throughout Broadway’s nooks, crannies, and rehearsal studios as the musical Waitress announced an all-female creative team: a Broadway first.

waitress jessie mueller broadway

Photo: Joan Marcus

The groundbreaking quartet of women responsible for whipping Waitress into one of Broadway’s top grossing shows are Tony-winning director Diane Paulus (Pippin; Finding Neverland; Hair); five-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles, the musical mastermind behind the show’s Tony-nominated score; Jessie Nelson (Corrina, Corrina; I Am Sam), who deftly adapted the show’s script from Adrienne Shelley’s 2007 film; and Julliard-trained choreographer Lorin Latarro (The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time; Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 21 Chump Street).

“I’m thrilled that Waitress is breaking boundaries as the first Broadway musical with book, score, choreography, and direction by a team of women,” notes Paulus, adding, “It’s a historic and long overdue moment for Broadway, and I’m honored to be working alongside such passionate and inspiring women.”

The show zeroes in on small-town waitress Jenna (Tony winner Jessie Mueller), whose less-than-desirable marriage to an abusive husband (Earl, played by Tony-nominee Nick Cordero) is counterbalanced by 1) her ability to bake amazing pies with names that tend to reflect her life’s cockeyed trajectory (“White Knuckle Cream Pie,” e.g.); and 2) her circle of friends at the diner where she waitresses, especially her fellow waitresses: prickly Becky (Keala Settle) and nerdy Dawn (Jenna Ushkowitz, who you’ll recognize from her role on Fox’s Glee).

When Jenna learns she’s pregnant (“Betrayed by My Eggs Pie”), 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 OBGYN (Drew Gehling); 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 imperfections haunt pretty much all the characters inhabiting this uniquely human and wonderfully uplifting musical.

In the end, it’s a play 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—in this case Ogie, played by Tony-nominee Christopher Fitzgerald—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 first act 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 thought it best to up the mouth-watering aspects of Waitress by coming up with an olfactory enticement that’s simultaneously evil and delicious...a kind of “surround smell” that ties into pie virtuoso Jenna’s ability to turn out pie after pie from Act I, Scene I through the grand finale.

“I wanted that aroma, and I wanted it desperately,” producer Barry Weissler told the New York Times last April, not long after Waitress opened. As it happens, the best way to achieve a genuine pie scent (apple, of course) was to install a convection oven in an area just outside of the orchestra seating area. Bottom line: it’s a good thing you can buy pie during the intermission...seriously.

waitress jessie mueller broadway

Photo: Joan Marcus

 

Waitress is playing at Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St. For tickets
call 877-250-2929 or visit waitressthemusical.com.

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