The past few months have been busy, intense, and full of blessings. But it’s been grueling. I have more to say about what I’ve been up to soon, but first I need to get some thoughts out about the musical Waitress.
I’ve loved the musical Waitress long before I saw it yesterday. When I first heard they were creating the musical, I wasn’t initially interested in it. I had enjoyed the movie very much when I’d seen it years ago in theaters, but it didn’t feel like a musical to me. However, when I heard the music for the first time over a year ago, it clicked for me. My heart opened up. I got goosebumps. I cried. I was in the break room at my old day job, crying. It had been a long time since a musical affected me in that manner. Yes, I was a mess during Les Miserables, but I don’t cry when listening to the cast album. When I listen to Waitress, I cry every single time. When I’m in the car, I’m walking, I’m at work, it doesn’t matter, when the character Jenna sings the line, “She used to be mine,” and hits that note on the word “mine,” I break. She holds that note as a beautiful, primal scream. Everything that’s been building up in her breaks and it comes out in beautiful pain. I’m tearing up just imagining it; I don’t have to listen to it to cry!
But Waitress isn’t simply about pain. It’s about vulnerability and believing in yourself and finding what’s right in your heart. It’s about expressing yourself honestly in an art form be it pies or plays or printmaking.
Having seen it in person, Waitress officially joins the list of my favorite musicals. It’s sweet, but not saccharine. It’s hopeful, but not trite. It’s honest and genuine. And I can’t help thinking that the answer to its emotional and dramatic success lies in its all-women creative team. I usually find myself drawn to women playwrights such as Caryl Churchill and Sarah Ruhl. My Apple Music has a playlist of Sara Bareilles, Anya Marina, Kate Nash, Norah Jones, and Regina Spektor. There’s something that’s more genuine, richer, and more interesting in the writing of women; that’s been my experience.
I was discussing this with my wife after watching Waitress. The characters were so full and multi-faceted. Even Earl, the villain of the piece, is drawn with strokes where you can see his hurt, his trauma. It doesn’t excuse his behavior, but he’s not one-dimensional. Many of the things he sings and says would be heartwarming if they came from someone else’s mouth.
The ideas baked into Waitress are expressed in such a fresh way. The love song is “You Matter to Me.” It’s the core of what a relationship is: what your partner says, believes, or feels matters. It matters. They matter. They are important to you and you are important to them. Love songs don’t sound like that on Broadway. But they should. Part of this has to do with Sara Bareilles not being a Broadway composer. You don’t feel the musical theatre rules being checked off when you listen to the music of Waitress. The songs stand on their own. But they also fit perfectly, naturally, and, yes, dramaturgically into the musical itself. To make a pie analogy, tart and tangy strawberries are a beautiful, tasty snack on their own, but are also scrumptious in a strawberry pie. (I’m not really a dessert or pie person, but this musical makes me want to eat pies. So many pies. All the pies.)
The other thing that’s striking is the prevalence of the book and script by Jessie Nelson, with much brought over from the film by Adrienne Shelly. In most musicals, the book is so spare and uninteresting. Even in something like Wicked, the dialogue and plot is about half a page before you get a song. Most times, you don’t need to see the show to get the full story, just listen to the music. In Waitress, there are character moments and growth and emotion that happens outside of the music. The script isn’t just a way to get to the next song. It’s necessary for the story and characters.
I can’t say enough about Waitress. There needs to be more musicals, films, plays, and tv shows like Waitress. There need to be more musicals, films, plays, and tv shows written, directed, and created by women.
I look forward to seeing Waitress again. And again. Thank you to the creators of the musical.