Waitress made history when it bowed on Broadway for assembling an all-female creative team (songwriter Sara Bareilles, book writer Jessie Nelson, director Diane Paulus and choreographer Lorin Latarro), but one person was missing.
Adrienne Shelly, who wrote, directed and co-starred as Dawn in the 2007 film upon which the Tony-nominated Best Musical is based, was found dead at her apartment November 1, 2006—a few months shy of Waitress' debut at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and limited theatrical release.
Now, the film that Shelly hoped would be accepted to Sundance has been baked into a Broadway musical, receiving four Tony nominations for Best Musical, Best Original Score (Bareilles), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Christopher Fitzgerald) and Best Actress in a Musical (Jessie Mueller).
Was there pressure to do justice to Shelly’s work?
“I don’t think anybody felt it as pressure,” Mueller explains. “I think people took it as a responsibility and an honor, really. What she wrote and what she created with the original screenplay was so beautiful and different and fresh and really honest, and it was something that the team talked about a great deal in the room. I had amazing moments with [book writer] Jessie Nelson, [in which] I’d come up to her during rehearsal about a certain moment [and] go, ‘What is this line?!’ She’s like, ‘Oh, that’s Adrienne’s line.’ Or if something wasn’t making sense, she’d go, ‘You know what, we took out a line of Adrienne’s, and I’m really fighting to get it back.’ So there was such a respect there.”
Kimiko Glenn created the character of Dawn on Broadway—the cute but quirky waitress who’s trying to score a date by sifting through online dating profiles.
“I have so much fun doing this role,” she told Playbill on opening night, although admitting she personally felt a responsibility to get it right. “The character [Shelly] played was so genuine, and I didn’t want to mess it up. I felt a lot of pressure on myself through the whole process.”
Shelly, 40, was murdered by a 19-year-old construction worker named Diego Pillco; it has been reported that Pillco confessed to attacking Shelly and then staging her fake suicide by hanging Shelly in the shower of her Greenwich Village work studio apartment. A month after her death, Shelly’s husband, Andy Ostroy, established the Adrienne Shelly Foundation dedicated to supporting women filmmakers.
“I think her presence has been there, leading us the whole way,” Mueller adds, “and I’m just thrilled if this show is letting her story have a whole new voice and a whole new audience.”