Sugar, butter…popcorn! The live stage capture of Waitress, starring the show’s writer and Tony nominee Sara Bareilles, debuted in a free screening in Times Square June 12, while it simultaneously premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Playbill was there to capture the event, which included a red carpet, a screening of the filmed musical, and a post-screening performance from Bareilles. Watch the video above to see Bareilles' heartfelt renditions of “What’s Inside” (including conducting audience members for her backing vocals) and “She Used to Be Mine.”
On the red carpet, Bareilles told Playbill that plans to film the Broadway musical Waitress were put into motion during the COVID-19 pandemic. “When Waitress closed because of the pandemic, we always had a regret that we hadn't made a live capture happen. So we thought we’d said goodbye,” Bareilles says. “And then when we got the opportunity to reopen, we were like, we have to make this happen. There’s so many people who just love this show. We're just like, we have to have a way to bring it to them, and it’s happening in Times Square tonight.”
The filmed version features the musical's complete encore run cast alongside Bareilles, including Christopher Fitzgerald in his Tony-nominated performance as Ogie, Drew Gehling as Dr. Pomatter, Charity Angél Dawson as Becky, Caitlin Houlahan as Dawn, Eric Anderson as Cal, Dakin Matthews as Joe, and Joe Tippett as Earl. The Broadway encore company was rounded out by Tyrone Davis, Jr., Matt DeAngelis, Andrew Fitch, Henry Gottfried,Molly Jobe, Emily Koch, Max Kumangai, Anastacia McCleskey, Gerianne Pérez, Stephanie Torns, and Nyla Watson. And in a special cameo, Jagged Little Pill star Elizabeth Stanley’s daughter was featured as Jenna’s newborn baby.
As fans crowded Times Square, eagerly awaiting the screening, the actors gave testament to the ways in which live captures can increase accessibility for the theatre community. An opportunity for a free screening like Waitress’ opens doors for theatregoers who may have been outside of the city, or unable to afford a ticket to the hit show.
“I grew up in a small town. I didn't get to see musicals, either,” Bareilles emphasizes. “I actually want to give a shout out to repertory theatres though, small community theatres all over—that is where I saw my theatre. But the big Broadway companies, I had to watch on the PBS specials—the Into the Woods, and the recorded Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. They were the thing that introduced me to theatre and made me love it so much.”
Gehling agrees: “I grew up on Into the Woods, and I grew up on that Sunday in the Park with George [filmed by PBS], and even the Legally Blonde that they did on MTV, that was really formative. So to have this be someone's first experience of the theatre is really really incredible.”
For a show as wholehearted as Waitress, director Diane Paulus says the significance of a filmed capture goes beyond increasing availability of theatre itself. The meaning of Waitress is relevant to the experiences of so many audience members, which for Paulus, makes the release of the film even more special.
“It means so much to be able to share this work…for them to experience a story that is about the messy stuff of life,” Paulus says. “That is about the beauty of friendship, and a community coming together around a character who’s struggling in life, and struggling in a difficult relationship—that you can get out of an abusive relationship, that there is always a second chance.”
The buzz around the Waitress premiere is a hopeful sign for the future of stage captures. As the theatre industry continues to recover from the effects of the pandemic, as well as search for ways to make performances more accessible to potential audience members, Bareilles says the film is a moment to celebrate.
“It’s so celebratory, this is such a labor of love,” Bareilles exclaims. “This is such a culmination of so many years of effort, and energy, and cast changes, and rebirth, and pandemic, and coming up. It’s just been moving mountains to make this happen.”
Below, see video footage Bareilles, Paulus, and Waitress book writer Jessie Nelson as they give remarks onstage before the screening.
See photos from the red carpet below.