by Kevin Shaw | photo by Tim Trumble
For most performers, being a waitress equates to constant frustration and unfulfilled dreams. No one dreams of going from starring on Broadway in Wicked back to waiting tables. No one, that is, unless it means getting to star in the national tour of Waitress opening tonight at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis. Focus Magazine caught up with the tour’s star, Christine Dwyer to find out what makes playing a waitress so magical.
Focus: How long have you been touring with Waitress?
Dwyer: I’ve been with this show and in this role since September of 2018.
Focus: How much longer do you think you’ll be with this show?
Dwyer: As of now, I don’t know exactly. My contract has an end date right now, but I’m hoping to extend it for a little bit longer because I love this show and the tour is going back to some places where I grew up. I’m with the tour for several more months—at least.
Focus: Is the tour booked for an extended period?
Dwyer: Yeah. It’s booked through the end of 2019 already.
Focus: You grew up in Massachusetts?
Dwyer: Yes. Just outside of Boston.
Focus: Did you study musical theatre in school?
Dwyer: Yes. I went to the University of Hartford in Connecticut and received a BFA in Musical Theatre.
Focus: What was your first professional show?
Dwyer: Right out of college, I got the National Tour of Rent as Maureen and I toured with that for about a year.
Focus: You also did Wicked on Broadway?
Dwyer: Yes. Collectively, I was in that show for almost six years. On Broadway, I did it for about two. In New York, I did a full year as Elphaba and then I spent the next year going in and out of the role due to other people’s injuries or vacations, etc.
Focus: Who decides when it’s time for a new actress to step into the role as big as Elphaba—the producers or the actresses? You would think if someone is talented enough to do the role, why not let them just do it for years and years?
Dwyer: With that show in particular, that role is really hard and it’s not sustainable for anyone to do it for years and years. It wouldn’t be healthy for your voice. It wouldn’t be healthy for your body. That’s a big part of it. The producers definitely do extend people’s contracts, but the producers also like to have announcements coming out in Playbill that say, “There’s a new Elphaba!” It gets people excited again and helps to keep the show feeling relevant to the audiences. The producers also like to bring in “pairs of witches” together (Glindas and Elphabas)—that’s a big part of it. But, also, there are plenty of performers who simply say, “I’m tired and I’m ready to do something else.”
Focus: Let’s talk about Waitress. Is this a show you saw or did on Broadway?
Dwyer: I saw it a bunch of times in New York, but I’ve never done it before. I saw it a bunch of times because my current fiancé’ (who is performing in this production with me now) was in it on Broadway and I wanted to see him. I always loved the idea of the show. I loved the movie! I really wanted to be a part of it.
Focus: What do you mean in regards to “loving the idea of the show?”
Dwyer: I love the story. I love the theatre tools the use in the show to tell the story. I think director Diane Paulus (Pippin on Broadway) is a wonderful visionary director! I worked with her on Finding Neverland. She paints such beautiful pictures so simply. When I saw the show in New York—just the way she dealt with all the ingredients—the pies, the flour being all over the stage, the pouring of the sugar—the choreography and vision of the show, I just thought it was so beautiful.
Focus: When you first saw the movie, could you envision it being a musical?
Dwyer: Now I can! I mean, there’s something just so magical with the way Jenna goes to her “safe place” with these pies. There’s this theme in the movie that’s actually used in the musical too, so I do think the movie lends itself to becoming a musical. When I first saw the movie, I didn’t think of it, but now when I go back and look at it, I can see that it’s very musical and very choreographed.
Focus: How did the producers choose Sara Bareilles to write the music and lyrics?
Dwyer: I know she was a fan of the movie and I can’t really imagine anyone else’s music in this show. She’s such a storyteller with her lyrics. She’s not like a normal “pop song” writer that has “verse, chorus, verse, chorus and then out.” She tells an entire story in all of her songs if you listen to any of her albums. Her musical stylings just lend itself to storytelling and acting.
It’s easy to sing her lyrics and feel them in a very visceral way.
Focus: The show’s been running on Broadway for 2-3 years now?
Dwyer: I think it’s been 3 years.
Focus: Is it still selling well in New York?
Dwyer: It is, yeah! It’s doing really well. It’s the only show that opened on Broadway the same year as Hamilton that is still running.
Focus: How has the tour been selling?
Dwyer: It’s been great! We’ve had sold-out audiences wherever we’ve been and, as the week goes on in each city, we have a lot of repeat viewers and interest once the reviews come out. We’ve been doing really well. It’s a really popular show with a lot of people.
Focus: For you, what’s the most rewarding part of doing the show night after night?
Dwyer: For me, the most rewarding part is getting to tell a story about women that isn’t a love story. I think so often it’s just a tool (love stories) that’s used because we think we need it, but this show is very “human.” Everyone in this show is going through something that has nothing to do with being “in love” or needing love to validate their existence. They’re hard workers who work at a diner. They’re all going through things at home and they all come together to help each other out through the difficult times. That’s something I’ve never been able to do before—celebrate a very “human” story.
Focus: Anything else we should know about this show before I let you go?
Dwyer: The one thing I always say in these interviews is that this is one of those shows where even if you don’t like musical theatre or you think you don’t like musical theatre; you should come see this show. It’s one that everybody loves and there is actually something for everybody in the show. It’s really funny and uplifting. It’s heartbreaking at moments, but it’s real life. It’s something that you don’t necessarily get in every musical. It’s more like a play with music. So, if you are asking yourself, “Do I want to see a musical about waiting tables?” it’s NOT that! It’s unlike any other musical you’ve seen before. Truly!
Focus: I can’t believe I almost forgot to ask—have you worked as a waitress in real life?
Dwyer: (laughing) Oh yes! Many times!
Now through January 20, 2019