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Order up! Broadway’s smash musical “Waitress” began its long-awaited, five-day theatrical run on Thursday with a filmed version of the production via Bleecker Street and Fathom Events. Sara Bareilles, who wrote the music and stars as Jenna, couldn’t be happier.
“To have days where my family in my tiny, small town can go see this Broadway show on a movie screen is so friggin’ unbelievably cool to me,” she told TheWrap. “So we’re just really in the moment of celebrating this accomplishment.”
But the completion of this new viewing experience for lovers of the musical doesn’t mean it’s facing the music any time soon. Following a remount on Broadway in 2021 (which was filmed for the Bleecker Street presentation by director Brett Sullivan), three U.S. tours and international stagings in the Philippines, U.K., Argentina, Japan, Poland, Finland and Israel, “Waitress” is producing its first French-language stage adaptation in Montreal, Quebec, next year.
Plus, Bareilles is ever-open to where the “Waitress” journey may lead next — and she’d “never say never” to a feature film musical adaptation à la the upcoming “Mean Girls” or “The Color Purple.”
“I always say, ‘Never say never.’ There might be a musical movie in the future somewhere. I don’t have any plans for that at the moment, there’s no discussion of that at the moment,” Bareilles said, adding that she would “happily pass the baton to someone else” to play Jenna in the future. “I think I’m hanging up my apron, but yes, it could be cool to see it reinvented.”
“Waitress” is the story of Jenna, an overworked, under-loved server and pie maker at Joe’s Diner, where with the help of her friends and coworkers Becky and Dawn, she grapples with an abusive husband, unwanted pregnancy and sordid affair with her gynecologist.
Based on the 2007 indie feature from the late Adrienne Shelly and featuring music and lyrics by Bareilles and a book by Jessie Nelson, “Waitress” was nominated for four 2016 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for original star Jessie Mueller. The musical’s filmed pro-shot is in theaters nationwide through Dec. 11; tickets are available here.
Read on for TheWrap’s full interview with Bareilles, where she shared behind-the-scenes stories of bringing “Waitress” to the screen, the unexpected gift of playing Jenna onstage and her hopes of working again with her fiancé, “Morning Show” actor Joe Tippett, who costars in the musical as Jenna’s husband Earl.
“Waitress” has played such a large role in your life. What does it mean to you having this filmed version as a cap to your experience, at least to this point?
I mean, it’s really deeply profound. It’s just a massive gift that I get to — you know, this show came into my life and sort of reorganized everything and made itself the center of my universe for many, many years. So to get to have a recording and an account of that, selfishly, is really a special gift. But I also think about all of the people who, like myself, are in small towns with not much means and coming to New York City to see a Broadway show is really just not a reality. So I love this new movement within the theater industry to do more of these live captures, as perfectly imperfect as they are.
They’re not really meant to take the place of coming to see theater. I always say this, but I do think that what happens inside those four walls is meant to happen in those four walls and is so precious and so magical and should still be pursued with all your might. But this is a beautiful proxy for that, to get to have access and to sort of see our director’s original vision and to come in so close to these performances and to see this story told in this way with these people — it’s part of the beauty and the beast of Broadway. Is that it’s finite, it’s ephemeral, it doesn’t last forever. And so in some small way, we get to feel like a piece of it might reach more people because of that, so that part’s really beautiful.
What was the filming experience like, and what were the challenges in bringing it from stage to screen?
We knew there’s nothing like having a live audience there, so what you end up seeing in the film is an amalgamation of four days of shoots. We had two shows shot on five cameras with a live audience, and then two full days of what we called “set-ups.” So they would bring the cameras in closer, they would even be onstage. We had a Steadicam, had a crane – so things that couldn’t happen with a live audience there, you could get a big overhead shot and a big wide shot and the ones that came in really, really close. So those things happened over two days, and then we kind of pieced together the best takes. We moved really quickly.
Four days is not a long time to shoot a film, and it’s the beauty of having a cast that really lived inside this show for a long time … I think the cast that we see in this film, over the years, has really just, I’m going to lovingly refer to them as all stars. They’re just, onstage and off, it is really easy to love them. And that has been a part of what the kind of conception of this film was – just holistically to get the right people in the right parts.
And we of course feel that way about you playing Jenna – which is never something that you expected when you signed on creatively to this show. In what ways do you feel like you really made Jenna your own?
What I have found to be so interesting as I’m sort of newer to acting, in general, is that it has more to do with the intuition that’s required and the sort of listening skills to sort of feel how the character feels through you. There wasn’t a lot of manhandling of this character from my perspective about, like, “I want her to be more like this or less like this.” It really wasn’t about that.
The beauty of the writing, there’s so much in there. Who she becomes is also very much informed by who she’s onstage with and the alchemy of a cast and the alchemy of the relationships and what bubbles to the surface. It’s about staying really open and present to what is coming through.
I think in retrospect when I look back, I felt her saltiness and I felt her melancholy. I felt her sadness and her resiliency and her humor, her coping with the world. She was funny and salty and, yeah, that’s how she felt to me. But it’s so cool to watch this same role on different people. That is the joy of theater. It’s just so fun to let it continually evolve and be reinvented.
Do you at all envision this filmed production as a litmus test for what may be a movie adaptation of “Waitress,” or do you think “Waitress” as we know it with you, is it buttoned up and done?
I don’t know if I know how to answer that. I think right now, we’ve been working so hard on this moment, and getting this movie into theaters all over the country was a massive accomplishment. So to partner with a prestigious company like Bleecker Street and Fathom Events, to have days where my family in my tiny, small town can go see this Broadway show on a movie screen is so friggin’ unbelievably cool to me. So we’re just really in the moment of celebrating this accomplishment.
I always say, “Never say never.” There might be a musical movie in the future somewhere. I don’t have any plans for that at the moment, there’s no discussion of that at the moment. I would happily pass the baton to someone else. I think I’m hanging up my apron, but yes, it could be cool to see it reinvented. But I think this was such a heavy lift, we worked really hard on this, so I’m not ready for that right now.
And you’re of course starring opposite your now-fiancée, Joe Tippett, in this filmed version of “Waitress.” Do you hope to work with him again?
I would love to work with him again. I mean, I met him on the show. I had a crush on him the moment he came in for his first audition. So, yeah, it’s been beautiful. It’s a challenging dynamic to have with your partner, to be playing an abused woman opposite this very hot-tempered, broken man. And so I would love to play a different dynamic, but he’s an extraordinary actor, and I admire his gifts so much. It’s really wonderful to look at your partner and really just admire what they do. So I’ve learned a lot from him, and I love working with him.
Yes, Joe is talented at portraying very complex men. We see that in his latest work on “The Morning Show.” Are you a fan?
Oh yeah, I’m a total die-hard, I love it so much. I love that they take big swings, I love that they don’t shy away from anything. I think that it’s got just enough soap opera that it’s delicious to me. The acting’s incredible, the casting’s amazing. I’m so proud of Joe.
Like you were saying, I think one of the things he does really well is, he just finds the humanity in people. He really has a very empathetic heart, and so I think sometimes – he always said this about Earl in “Waitress” and I thought it was really smart. It’s like, everyone is the hero of their own story. So a villain doesn’t know they’re the villain. That’s why, like with Earl and Jenna, you have to see enough lovable parts of him to understand why she would’ve ever been with him in the first place. Otherwise, it reflects very poorly on her for him to be a total throwaway, two-dimensional character. So there has to be enough kind of complication. And he was that way on “Mare of Easttown” and “The Morning Show” – he’s on a new show “Monarch,” where he’s playing a scientist looking for Godzilla. It’s really amazing to watch his career kind of do what it’s doing. But yes, I’m a big “Morning Show” fan.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.