What do lucky audiences get when an inventive all-female creative group partner with Tony Award winning director Diane Paulus and six-time Grammy award nominee Sara Bareilles to adapt a book written by celebrated screenwriter Jessie Nelson? A recipe for a sensational musical which Entertainment Weekly describes as nothing short of a “little slice of heaven.”
“Waitress” takes audiences on a journey into the life of a waitress named Jenna who has big dreams of escaping her tiny town and loveless marriage. With the help of her supportive friends and a spunky coworker named Becky, portrayed by actress Charity Angél Dawson, the characters learn how to earn their own slice of the American Pie — and eat it too.
Firstly, I want to congratulate you on having been a part of the U.S. tour for ‘Waitress.’
Thank you. It’s been fun.
Looking at your bio, it’s evident that you have a lot of acting experience from performing in ‘The Color Purple’ to ‘The Wiz’ to ‘West Side Story.’ What inspired you to make a career of acting?
“Well I have always been a singer. I’ve been singing my whole life; my whole family sings. But as far as acting is concerned, I really fell in love with storytelling in my junior year of high school when I competed in college-level activities like speech and debate. I really kind of fell in love with telling stories, the simplicity of breaking something down and just focusing on the text and the message of the story. After that, I was kind of hooked.”
What drew you to ‘Waitress?’
“Well first and foremost, Sara Bareilles, because she has been my favorite artist for a very long time. So, when I saw her name attached to it I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I need to see what this is about. I can do something in the back; I don’t care, I just need to be a part of it’ … I went in and auditioned and now it’s almost three years later and here I am.”
Without giving any major plot twists or details away, how might you describe the story behind ‘Waitress?’
“It’s about a waitress who’s in a small town. She’s trying to figure out her life and she’s in this loveless marriage and she finds out she’s pregnant and that kind of takes her on a journey toward that self-discovery, toward making decisions that are for her and not for everyone else. She’s able to come out of being a doormat and see herself, and she’s able to thrive in the end.”
It sounds like a story that many audiences might be able to relate to on a personal level.
“I love that about the story. I think that even the subplots and the characters, it’s all about everyone finding their version of happy and their version of being able to wake up in the morning and looking in the mirror and say ‘I like what’s happening here. I like the life I’m living.’”
I understand being drawn to a production because of a particular artist. I’m the same way with artworks in museums. But, did you have an idea of a character that you wanted to portray when you auditioned?
“I just wanted to be a part of it. I watched the movie and then I read the script and I said, ‘Wow. This is a really great show.’ The role that I originally went in for was Norma and she was just so feisty and fun. I wanted to sink my teeth into that and I knew that I would have a chance to eventually play Becky at some point, too, so that was exciting.”
Is there any specific reason why you had your eye on playing Becky? What is she like?
“Becky is a no-nonsense kind of person. She is straightforward and to the point. She may get a little fiesty, or a little quick here and there, but it’s all love. I love her feelings toward her friends and her desire to see them find their best life; to find their version of happy in life. I love that she’s that support to the people around her.”
Have you found any characteristics of Becky that mirror your own personality?
“Absolutely. There are definitely some things that I identify with. You know, my relationship toward my friends and how I’ve kind of played the support a lot of times. But, there are also things that definitely separate us, too, so I have been able to find that after doing it for three years that I’ve been able to find the balance of the two.”
In your opinion, what is Becky like in comparison to the other characters that you’ve portrayed over the span of your career?
“I would say that she’s definitely different. I have not played anyone like her. She’s a little older. She’s a little more ‘I’ve been around the way; I’ve been there, done it all and seen it all and learned from it.’ But, I think that she lives with no regrets — except for not living even more and not giving herself over to her desires.”
Three years is a long time to work on a project of any degree. How do you stay motivated? What keeps you going?
“Passion for what we do, a passion for doing this. It can be exhausting at times but we love it. If you stop loving it, then you stop doing it and so I love it still.”
What has it been like travelling to different areas on this tour?
“Every city is different, so some of the jokes land differently in different demographics and different towns. But, it’s exciting because it’s new every week and every night with a different audience because the audiences, and the cast members, change … so it’s cool. It’s kind of a refreshing moment every time we go to a new city.”
Have you learned anything about yourself while being a part of this production?
“Absolutely. I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I believed I was. I’ve learned that I’m capable of more than I thought I could handle. I’ve learned that balance — in a work and professional life — and separating the two and creating boundaries for myself is important. That’s something that I’ll always carry with me.”
Based on your experiences, what words of advice might you share with an actor or actress who’s just starting out?
“I would say to always be learning. Always keep growing and discovering. There’s no moment of an artist ‘arriving’ so you can always challenge yourself. You can always dig deeper. Getting rid of your ego is a big part of that because in this business you get told ‘no’ a lot. So, you have to get tough and say, ‘Hey, well I’m going to knock on the next door and see and not give up.’”
“Waitress” is currently on view at the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and will run through April 22. For more information about showtimes, pricing and to purchase tickets, visit browardcenter.org/events/detail/waitress.