Waitress is a musical with music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, and a book by Jessie Nelson. Based on the 2007 film of the same name, written by Adrienne Shelly, the musical tells the story of Jenna Hunterson, a waitress in an unhappy marriage to her husband Earl. When Jenna unexpectedly becomes pregnant she begins an affair with her gynecologist Dr. Jim Pomatter. Looking for ways out she sees a pie contest and its grand prize as her chance.
Stage rights to the film were purchased in 2007, whilst the musical's creative team was assembled by 2013. The original production of Waitress premiered at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge in August 2015, with direction by Diane Paulus and choreography by Chase Brock, and starring Jessie Mueller, Drew Gehling and Joe Tippett as Jenna, Jim and Earl, respectively. It made its Broadway debut at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in April 2016. A U.S. national tour began on October 20, 2017.
The musical is based on the 2007 indie film Waitress. The film was produced on a budget of just $1.5 million, earning over $23 million in global box office receipts. The film starred Keri Russell, and was written and directed by Adrienne Shelly, who was murdered three months prior to the premiere of Waitress at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. The film followed Jenna, a waitress and pie chef living in the American South, who unexpectedly becomes pregnant and feels trapped in an unhappy marriage. Looking for ways out she sees a pie contest and its grand prize as her chance.
Following the 2013 Tony Awards, producers Barry and Fran Weissler announced that a musical version of the film was in the works, with Paula Vogel writing the book, music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles and direction by Diane Paulus. The Weisslers purchased the stage rights to the film shortly after its release in 2007. Paula Vogel withdrew from the project in January 2014. On December 11, 2014, the musical was officially confirmed, and it was announced that the show would receive its world premiere at the American Repertory Theater, Cambridge, Massachusetts, as part of their 2015–2016 season, with Jessie Nelson now writing the book. A workshop was held the same month in New York City, with Jessie Mueller, Keala Settle, Christopher Fitzgerald, Bryce Pinkham and Andy Karl, among others, taking part. Nelson, with the best wishes of the late Adrienne Shelly's husband, used some of Shelly's unfinished scripts to help bring "her voice" to the project.
Waitress began previews on August 2, 2015, at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before the official opening on August 19, 2015, for a limited run to September 27, 2015. Tickets for the world premiere production sold out. The show has a book by Jessie Nelson, with direction by Diane Paulus, choreography by Chase Brock, set design by Scott Pask, costume design by Suttirat Anne Larlarb, lighting design by Kenneth Posner, musical direction by Nadia DiGiallonardo and sound by Jonathan Deans. Notable casting for the show included Jessie Mueller as Jenna, Drew Gehling as Jim, Joe Tippett as Earl, Jeanna de Waal as Dawn, Keala Settle as Becky, Dakin Matthews as Joe, Jeremy Morse as Ogie and Eric Anderson as Cal.
During previews at the American Repertory Theater, it was announced that the production would transfer to Broadway in March 2016. Previews began at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, on March 25, 2016, with the official opening slated for April 24, just in time for the 2015-2016 Tony Award cut-off date of April 28. Tickets for the transfer went on sale on February 15. Changes to the creative team for the Broadway run included Lorin Latarro replacing Chase Brock as choreographer and Christopher Akerlind replacing Kenneth Posner as lighting designer. For the Broadway production elements of the book were rewritten, new choreography developed and a new song written by Bareilles. Manhattan baker Stacy Donnelly and small business owner Dawn Mayo of Everythingdawn Bakery Candles & Treats were both hired for the project. Donnelly was hired to ensure the baking scenes were realistic. She taught the cast how to work and roll pie dough as the role of Jenna required Mueller to crack eggs, sift flour and roll out dough on stage. Mayo was hired to create all the realistic prop pies used throughout the show.
To help immerse audiences, real pies are warming as they enter the theater, creating the aroma of a pie shop, with slices of pie on sale. Cast changes included Nick Cordero taking over the role of Earl, Kimiko Glenn as Dawn and Christopher Fitzgerald who took part in the New York workshop as Ogie. During previews the production set the record for a single performance at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, taking $145,532. The production had required an initial investment of $12 million. During a technical halt at a preview performance composer and lyricist Sara Bareilles performed two songs, including a song previously cut from the production called "Down at the Diner".
With music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, book by Jessie Nelson, choreography by Lorin Latarro, and direction by Diane Paulus, Waitress made history on Broadway with the four top creative spots in a show being filled by women. In addition, the creative posts of costume design and musical direction were held by women. Sara Bareilles said she was proud to be part of an all-female team: "It's really fun to be an example of the way it can look. We're a bunch of women who are deeply committed to finding a way to build a unified vision." The only other musical with a similar history was the 1978 Broadway musical Runaways, which had a book, music, lyrics, choreography and direction solely by one woman, Elizabeth Swados.
A U.S. national tour began at Playhouse Square in Cleveland on October 20, 2017.
Jenna is a waitress and expert pie baker at Joe's Diner in the American South who often rationalizes tough situations by conceptualizing them as pie ingredients ("What's Inside"). One such fantasy is interrupted by Cal, her boss, and she begins another day at the diner along with Becky, a sassy and tough waitress, and Dawn, an anxious yet lovable waitress ("Opening Up"). On this particular day, Jenna is distracted by her potential unwanted pregnancy; she ducks into the restroom to try a home pregnancy test, wherein she reveals that she has an unloving relationship with her husband, Earl, and that the latent pregnancy was the result of a drunken night. She is dismayed to discover that the test is positive ("The Negative"). As the work day continues, Earl visits the diner, and criticizes Jenna's low-paying job, suggesting that he may make her quit in the coming days and give up her passion that is baking. Jenna decides not to tell him about the pregnancy, and finds solace in baking her eccentric and at times experimental pies. She recalls her late mother, who, like Jenna, was trapped in an unhappy marriage and escaped through baking with her daughter ("What Baking Can Do").
Jenna goes in for a physical, where in the waiting room she is greeted and taunted by fellow pregnant women ("Club Knocked Up"). She meets her new OB/GYN, the young and handsome Dr. Jim Pomatter, filling in for the woman who had been Jenna's doctor since birth. Jenna is uncomfortable with this change, and bluntly tells Dr. Pomatter that she does not want her baby. She gives him the pie she had made specially for her old doctor, and while he initially rebuffs the offer, having cut sugar, he indulges himself in the pie when she leaves, clearly falling in love with the confection ("Pomatter Pie").
Back at the diner, word has spread of Jenna's pregnancy to Joe, the curmudgeonly owner of the diner as well as a difficult regular customer, and he suggests that she enter a local pie contest with a high reward. Becky and Dawn also present Jenna with a gift of a baby book, complete with a spot for a letter to the baby, but Jenna is less than enthusiastic toward the book as she is still not looking forward to motherhood. Attention turns to Dawn, who has never had a boyfriend before and has recently begun filling out an online dating profile. Dawn's profile soon yields a response, and she sets a five-minute date for the following night, clearly nervous but excited for the encounter ("When He Sees Me").
After the working day has ended, Jenna runs into Dr. Pomatter at the bus stop. She tells him about her unhappy marriage, happy to be coming home on a night when Earl is out drinking with friends, and Dr. Pomatter heavily compliments her pie, telling her that he is intrigued by her compassion and resilience ("It Only Takes a Taste"). Jenna arrives home to find Earl, who tells her that he was fired. Already in a sour mood, his temper rises as he tells Jenna to make more money, and his anger almost turns physical until Jenna stops him by telling him that she is pregnant. Earl immediately calms down, though remains angry that she kept this from him, and makes her promise to never love the baby more than him ("You Will Still Be Mine"). At the diner the next day, Jenna reveals to Dawn and Becky that she plans on entering the pie contest and using the winnings to leave Earl and start a new life with the baby. She also helps a nervous Dawn prepare for her date by making her a special pie to give to the man and Becky does Dawn's makeup. The three waitresses softly express their now foreseeable dreams of better lives ("A Soft Place to Land").
The next day, an odd man named Ogie arrives at the diner looking for Dawn, who reveals that he was the blind date, both of whom having very different ideas of how the date went. Dawn begs Ogie to leave her alone, but he refuses, insistent on getting to know her better ("Never Ever Getting Rid Of Me"). Dawn continues trying to get him to leave until Ogie reveals that he has taken part in American Revolution reenactments, which Dawn has done as well, and the two start to realize just how much they have in common. Meanwhile, Jenna has noticed she has started bleeding, and she calls Dr. Pomatter, who tells her to come in at 7 AM the next morning. She does so, but is irritated when he writes it off as a common symptom of pregnancy, confronting him for calling her over before both of their typical work days over a minute detail. The encounter ultimately culminates in her impulsively kissing him, and they both frantically think over the situation. Ultimately, they both conclude that they could use a break from their frustrating lives, and they have sex in Dr. Pomatter's office ("Bad Idea").
After her tryst with Dr. Pomatter, Jenna arrives at the diner for work to discover Becky and Cal having sex behind the counter. Jenna confronts Becky on the immorality of their affair, but Becky, aware of Jenna's affair, defends herself, claiming that Jenna's actions are no more moral simply because of her worse home situation ("I Didn't Plan It"). Jenna and Dr. Pomatter continue their affair over the next few weeks, as do Becky and Cal, and Dawn and Ogie's relationship progresses as well ("Bad Idea (Reprise)"). Jenna's relationship with Dr. Pomatter, which has become apparent to many people including Dr. Pomatter's nurse and Joe, comes to a brief halt when Dr. Pomatter is out of town and does not show up to one of their appointments. When he shows up to the next one, Jenna confronts him over their failure to communicate and considers if the whole affair is a mistake, but they both assure each other of their importance in a world where neither of them is truly valued ("You Matter To Me"). Jenna begins writing a mental note to her baby, inspired by the happiness that Dr. Pomatter has instilled in her.
Several months have passed and Jenna's pregnancy has progressed. Dawn and Ogie are married, in a ceremony complete with catering from Jenna and an impromptu poem from Ogie ("I Love You Like a Table"). At the reception, Jenna asks Cal if, in spite of his affair, he is truly happy, and he responds that he is "happy enough." Joe also shares a dance with Jenna and, in a rare tender moment for him, expresses his sincere hope and faith in her ("Take it From an Old Man"). Jenna's happiness is interrupted by Earl's sudden presence, and he drags her away from the reception and back to their home, where he reveals that he has found the money that she has been stashing away to save up for the pie contest. When he asks what she has been saving the money for, Jenna meekly tells him that the money is for the baby, and that she was saving up to buy the baby a new crib. Earl leaves and takes the money ("Dear Baby") When he leaves, Jenna breaks down, lamenting her long-lost control over her own life ("She Used To Be Mine").
Soon afterward, Jenna goes into labor. She is visited briefly in the hospital by Joe, who is about to have surgery in the same hospital, and who, knowing he is dying, gives her an envelope which he tells her to open once she has the baby. The presence of Earl, Becky and Dawn, and even Dr. Pomatter's wife, makes the delivery room incredibly crowded, and Jenna eventually grows so stressed that she cries out. The stage goes silent and dark, until suddenly the cries of the newborn baby are heard. Jenna names the baby girl "Lulu," and falls in love with her immediately. Earl, disappointed that the baby is a girl, tells her to make good on her promise not to love Lulu more than him, but Jenna bluntly tells him that she hasn't loved him in years and wants a divorce. When he reacts poorly, Becky escorts him out of the hospital, and she and Dawn give Jenna space so she can have a moment with Dr. Pomatter. While he would like to continue their relationship indefinitely, Jenna tells him it would complicate things too much and, refusing anymore to be simply "happy enough," she ends the affair. Still, she thanks him for the positive impact he had on her life during her pregnancy, and in lieu of a homemade pie, gives him a moon pie as a final gift. Jenna remarks on how her outlook has changed with the presence of Lulu in her life ("Everything Changes").
As she leaves the hospital, Jenna remembers the note from Joe, and she opens it to read that he has left her the diner, asking her to name a pie after him. Some two years later, it is business as usual at the diner, now called "Lulu's Pies," and Jenna, now the owner and head chef, is content, her life finally turned around ("Opening Up (Finale)").
Waitress features an original score, with music and lyrics by American singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles. The musical uses a six-member orchestra consisting of keyboard, piano, cello, guitar, bass and drums. In addition to the show's musical numbers Bareilles also recorded the Broadway production's turn off your cellphone message, rewriting part of her original song "Cassiopeia".
2015 A.R.T., Boston Production
2016 Broadway Production
† Not included on original Broadway playbill.
Sara Bareilles recorded her fifth studio album called What's Inside: Songs from Waitress, featuring songs from the musical. It was released on November 6, 2015, through Epic Records. The album debuted at number ten on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart with 30,000 equivalent album units in its first week of release, giving Barellies her fifth Top ten album. The lead single from the album, "She Used to Be Mine", was released digitally on September 25, 2015. Speaking about the release of the album Bareilles stated that her decision to record an album of the songs came because it "proved impossible for me to imagine handing over the songs to the show before selfishly finding a way to sing them myself."
In April 2016, it was announced that a cast album would be recorded the following month. The original Broadway cast recording was released as a digital download on June 3, and the physical release followed on July 1, 2016. The album was produced by Bareilles, alongside Neal Avron and was recorded by DMI Soundtracks.
The characters and casts:
Jenna Hunterson: Sara Bareilles, Betsy Wolfe
Dr. Jim Pomatter: Chris Diamantopoulos, Drew Gehling, Jason Mraz
Earl Hunterson: William Popp, Will Swenson, Joe Tippett
Becky: Charity Angel Dawson, Maia Souluvlai
Dawn: Jenna Ushkowitz, Caitlin Houlahan
Joe: Larry Marshall
Lulu: Cate Elefante, Ella Morgan, Victoria Collett, Katie Grober
Joe: John Cullum on October 12, 2017
The show garnered generally positive reviews in both runs. Frank Rizzo, reviewing the Boston production for Variety, wrote: "...making Earl so relentlessly horrible makes Jenna's inability to leave him not just indecisive but something more worrisome... Meanwhile, there's little evidence for the good doctor being Jenna's lost soulmate, despite his loving bedside manner,...Mueller's performance transcends the show's imperfections. She's funny, frisky and likable. She sings Bareilles' songs beautifully... director Diane Paulus fills the production with clever touches — a scalloped pie-crust proscenium, a fluid and easygoing flow and a natural truthfulness in the performances."
For the Broadway production, many critics found Bareilles' score and Mueller's performance to be the highlights of the show. Charles Isherwood of the New York Times gave a mixed review of the show but called Mueller's performance "a high point of the Broadway season." Time Out New York gave the production four stars and said "...Waitress has an excellent ratio of sweet to tart; supporting characters who provide crustiness (Dakin Matthews's grumbly store owner) and flakiness (Christopher Fitzgerald's loony admirer of another waitress); and cooked-to-perfection staging by Diane Paulus. The whole dish is—please forgive me—love at first bite." David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter said "...the material is anchored at every step by Bareilles' melodious pop score and Mueller's supremely natural performance as Jenna. While the stock characters that surround her may be familiar, they're a winsome bunch played by sterling performers" though the choreography and direction by Latarro and Paulus respectively were borderline cheesy.
Awards and nominations