When Waitress closes on Sunday, January 5, it will have played 33 previews and 1,544 regular performances—a record for the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where the show has played to delighted audiences since its opening on April 24, 2016.
Indeed, it’s one of several ways in which the Sara Bareilles-scored musical (based on the 2007 film of the same name) has smashed barriers during its three-and-a-half year run. The show marks the first Broadway musical with an all-female creative team; has included stints from celebrities such as Jordin Sparks, Katharine McPhee (who currently plays Jenna through the end of the show’s run), New Kids on the Block singer Joey McIntyre, Jason Mraz, YouTube star Colleen Ballinger (of “Miranda Sings” fame), Al Roker, Todrick Hall, and Bareilles herself, who has taken over the role of Jenna on multiple occasions; has launched multiple international productions in the Philippines, Buenos Aires, Australia, the Netherlands, and on the West End, as well as a successful national tour in the United States; and now sits amongst the top 10 longest-running shows currently playing on Broadway.
Not only has Waitress spent the past few years endearing itself in the hearts of Broadway audiences with its tuneful score and its resilient, determined main character, it has also proved a formative experience to the actress who have portrayed her along the way. Continue below to find out how seven of Waitress’ past and current Jennas view their experiences with the show as it nears its closing, as well as the mark they believe it will leave on the Broadway landscape.
What legacy do you think Waitress will leave behind for Broadway?
JESSIE MUELLER: I like to think it'll be a part of a really great Pop Musical legacy. And it will always be Sara Bareilles' first musical. That's super cool and important. I hope she writes more. I also think it's important because its central characters are strong, flawed, complex females. Waitress is a show that proves that's something people want to see.
BETSY WOLFE: Waitress possesses a beautiful journey of a woman who discovers the power within herself, and while it’s a unique circumstance, I’m so hopeful its massive success will pave the way to more stories and journeys of female empowerment.
NICOLETTE ROBINSON: It’s incredible to me how many different types of people connected with this show—the message is quite universal. I think we can all relate to having a dream that feels unattainable or the feeling of being limited or trapped by our circumstances. This show reminds us that there is hope, even if things don’t come the way we envision them. Waitress made a huge theatre filled with strangers laugh together, breathe together, and cry together. I hope we can always remember the way that felt.
KATHARINE McPHEE: I think that Waitress touches people in a way that they don’t expect will happen when they get to their seats, and that they don’t forget when they leave. It’s a show you wake up thinking about the day after you saw it and that you tell everyone you know to see, because its story is so infectious. It has every piece of the pie you need, all in one show that truly feeds your soul. And that’s the mark I think it leaves. It’s this memory of how truly touched you were sitting in that theatre. That’s how I felt when I first saw it, at least.
JORDIN SPARKS: I honestly believe that it will be remembered as a show that everyone could see themselves in. That made you feel every emotion in two and a half hours. The show that brings a smile to your face just by humming the melody to “What Baking Can Do.” But I do think the message I received from it is similar to what my Nona Gwen always tells me: “Don’t let nobody steal your joy.”
SHOSHANA BEAN: I think it will leave a remarkable legacy of having an all-female creative team; of being the longest running show at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre; of creating a strong family bond within its many, many cast members; and of having the most loyal fan base who returned again and again to experience the incredible and unmatched heart of the production.
STEPHANIE TORNS: First and foremost, that it was the first musical on Broadway to have an all-female creative team. What an amazing accomplishment. Also, three strong woman leads telling the story of self-love is a pretty wonderful and powerful thing.
How has the role of Jenna impacted you and what will you take from it going forward?
TORNS: My girl Jenna has taught me so much about myself. She was a gift that I didn’t even know I needed. I have learned to open my heart to the fullest capacity, to find strength in my weaknesses, and to stand strong in the pride I feel from all of my hard work with this show.
BEAN: Jenna softened me and opened my heart an insane amount. She taught me the incredible connective power of vulnerability. I can safely say I will never again approach anything I do, as a character or as myself, from anything less than the level of vulnerability from which I learned to live while playing her.
SPARKS: I was honored to tell Jenna’s story. I didn’t realize how deeply connected I truly was to her until the end of my run. I’d find new layers in the things she’d say or her reactions, and it kept the show so exciting. But it also helped me grow as an actress and human, and it also helped me heal in a lot of ways. It was incredible playing an intelligent, witty, loving, and beautiful woman who chooses herself and her happiness in the end. It’s so important for people to see someone choose that!
MUELLER: Jenna taught me a lot about what I can and cannot maintain eight times a week! But she also opened a door to me learning to embrace the not-so-pretty parts of myself; the good, bad, and ugly that are all part of who I am and who I am becoming.
McPHEE: This role and show has been an incredible journey for me. Making a Broadway debut is such a huge honor and accomplishment, and at the same time, such a scary thing. I feel like I’ve grown so much during my time here—on a personal level and also as a performer.
WOLFE: Two years later and I’m still encountering fans from my time with the show— it’s always humbling to see how much Jenna’s journey is a part of all of us. Her struggles, while certainly unique, offer hope and I am so proud to have been encouraged to portray her in my own way. I treasure the connections with friends and fans that this show has welcomed in my life.
ROBINSON: I’m so in love with this show, this role, this creative team, and this cast and crew . . . I will never forget how the theatre community and audiences embraced me with such an enormous amount of love and support. I could cry just thinking about it. I’ve gained new friends, family, a whole lot more confidence, and more than anything, playing Jenna has taught me the importance of self-love. I feel so grateful to have been a part of a show that resonates with so many people and I’ll always remember my time in Waitress as one of the best times of my life.
What is your favorite memory from your time with Waitress?
SPARKS: Oh my gosh! I have so many fun memories, but one of my favorites was when Drew [Gehling] and I were in the scene right before “Bad Idea (Reprise)” and a blackberry actually fell from the pie Nurse Norma (Dayna Jarae Dantzler) was eating. We all clocked it and within a split second, Drew said, “Man down!” He went to the front of the stage, grabbed it, and ate it. I was already trying not to laugh because Drew is hilarious without even trying. We all busted out laughing for a good 30 seconds. The audience was in the moment, we were in the moment, it was great. It felt so good to laugh like that. Just deep, soulful, appreciative laughter.
BEAN: I have so many! It’s so hard to nail down just one! My opening show, cast family dinners, the blackout, between-show girl talk, pre-show dance parties and post show hangs in my dressing room, mid-show visits to the boys' dressing room . . . so many sweet, sweet memories I will forever hold so dear.
TORNS: My all-time favorite memory would have to be performing on the Tony Awards. The little version of Stephanie who watched the Tonys every year from her living room couch was truly screaming with joy inside. I will never forget it.
MUELLER: Probably the friendships I made there. I learned about sisterhood . . . I'm still learning! But I think it truly started there for me. That, and Eric Anderson's dry sense of humor . . . and the Cal-stache.
ROBINSON: One I’ll never forget is the moment the curtain rose on my debut performance. Not many things have ever felt so wonderful, scary, and exhilarating at the same time. Standing center stage in the spotlight as the curtain came up and the audience screamed . . . I could feel the energy on all sides of me—my castmates on stage behind me, more cast and crew in the wings, and the audience in front of me. I could literally feel the love shooting into me from every angle. So surreal and so emotional. My stomach still gets butterflies when I think about it!
WOLFE: I joined the show at such a special time, literally taking over for the queen of kindness herself, Sara Bareilles. I’m so grateful that I worked so closely with the creative team and had castmates who embraced me from day one. I even got married during the end of my run and returned to the show right after, so needless to say, my time there was so special—professionally and personally.
McPHEE: Like the song “Everything Changes” at the end of the show—so much of my life has changed during the course of my time here on Broadway and also during the time in which I had the incredible honor to open the show in London. I will always cherish my time here, both on and off the stage. I fell deeply in love with this show; I fell in love with my then-boyfriend and later got engaged during this show; I lost my father during this show; I lost my voice in between doing the show; and then I got married during this show. There have been so many highs and lows, and yet every night, coming to the theatre to tell this story has never failed me. I have always been inspired and moved by it, by the people around me, and by the people in those seats. May we all be so lucky.