Musical theatre often serves as a portal to fantastical worlds where time moves seamlessly forward and back. Supernatural and human worlds coexist and the suspension of disbelief has a starring role. The magic of “Waitress” is the reality in which its set.
In this “slice-of-life” musical, Christine Dwyer plays the role of Jenna, a waitress in a small town diner who crafts such creative pies as “The Key (Lime) to Happiness Pie” and “Betrayed By My Eggs Pie” that mirror her life. When she’s dismayed to learn she’s pregnant, she receives the unconditional love and support from her friends that she was missing in her loveless marriage. A baking contest in a nearby county – and a satisfying encounter with someone new – offers Jenna a chance at a fresh start.
Waitress is presented by the FSCJ Artist Series March 12-17 at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts (www.fscjartistseries.org). EU Jacksonville recently caught up with Dwyer who shared her own recipe for a balanced life.
“The show is about struggling through life trials and how you kind of emerge a more grounded human being and how your friendships with people really help you out in terms of getting through those tough times. This character she deals with a lot of heavy subject matter but she handles them in a more light-hearted way. This musical is very much based in reality,” says Dwyer.
“In real life, you don’t sit around and say ‘my life is terrible’ all the time. Sometimes you say ‘my life is terrible’ and then you laugh about it because you have to and then you move forward. And that’s what this show does. It deals with very difficult subject matter but it deals with them on a very human level. That’s kind of how we all deal with things that are thrown at us. We don’t just fall down. As human beings, we figure it out and recover and that’s the beautiful thing about playing Jenna and being a part of this show.”
Dwyer recently ended a run as Elphaba in Broadway’s Wicked. Other performances include Finding Neverland as Sylvia, in Rent as Maureen and performed a part of NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert. She reprised her role as Elphaba on the Tony Awards which she was also invited to perform for President Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Hannover Messe. In Waitress, Dwyer discovered all the ingredients for a well-rounded show.
“It’s honestly my favorite show that I’ve ever done because it literally gives you everything that you could want,” she says. “You get to do comedy, you get physical comedy and you get to sing this beautiful music, it’s really one of those shows that has something for everyone. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry and it’s a slice of life musical and it’s a joy to be a part of it.”
The circle of strong women who help Jenna navigate her life experiences is a reflection of the creative team of all women who infused the production with authentic female voices. Waitress features original music and lyrics by Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles (“Love Song,” “Brave”), a book by acclaimed screenwriter Jessie Nelson (I Am Sam) and direction by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus (Pippin, Finding Neverland). Dwyer says that powerful feminine energy is present throughout the show.
“The last three bows of the show are women which never happens. Even if the last bow is a female, usually the second to the last is the romantic lead. There’s not really a romantic lead in this show. There are relationships that are fostered but they’re not the ones that are most important,” she says. “I think the most important relationships that you see in this show are the three waitresses and their friendship with each other and their working relationship and how they’re all sort of going through things at the same time and all support and help each other. That’s really cool to see on the other side of the table all these cool strong empowered women working together to create this story. It’s really cool to be on stage and have those female relationships be as strong as they are in the show.”
Like Jenna, who bakes pies that identify with the trials in her life, Dwyer discovered her happy place in musical theatre. As a self-described “theater kid,” she connected in the same way with play rehearsals and the entire process of staging a show to find her way out of her shell. And in a mirror image of her character, Dwyer carves out quality time to relax in the kitchen.
“Now that musical theatre has become my job, the thing that I like to do now is cook. It’s the thing that helps me decompress now that my life is musical theatre. I need sometimes to take a step back from that and cooking has become my thing so I definitely connect with the baking aspect of that in this show,” says Dwyer, who’s looking forward to trying out some of Jenna’s pie recipes. “I feel like this is a character that I feel most connected to out of the many characters I have played in the past. I feel like some of the lines that she says could have come directly from me. She’s one of those characters that at the end of every show I feel lighter and happier from just being able to tell this story every day.”