It's a hit film that spawned a Broadway and West End sensation - and it's coming to Dublin. John Byrne talks to Waitress star Chelsea Halfpenny about the show about baking a new life for yourself.
In the wondrous world of stage musicals, Waitress is one of the surprise hits of recent years - and it’s easy to see why.
The original 2007 film starred Keri Russell in the lead role of small town waitress Jenna Hunterson, who dreams of changing her life while living in an abusive marriage and baking amazing pies in her day job at Joe’s Pie Diner.
She falls for Jim Pomatter, a new doctor in town (played in the film by Nathan Fillion), and that leads her to try and change her life for the better. Its comic and dramatic mix of quirky, smart and inspirational hit a chord.
It was a posthumous hit for the film’s writer/director Adrienne Shelly, who was tragically murdered just before Waitress was released.
In 2015, it developed a new lease of life. It became a Broadway and then West End sensation after singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles added music and lyrics to create a musical that has received multiple awards and nominations in both the USA and the UK, receiving acclaim from both audiences and critics alike.
It was also the first musical in history to be brought to the West End by an all-female creative team. No mean feat, that.
Waitress is currently on tour in the UK and will be heading to Dublin’s Bord Gais Energy Theatre in June. Former Casualty star Chelsea Halfpenny plays the lead role of Jenna, and we caught up with her backstage in Birmingham ahead of the show’s arrival in Ireland.
John Byrne: Hi Chelsea! How’s the tour going so far?
Chelsea Halfpenny: Lovely. It’s going really fast. Which is worrying. I think we’ve only got about three months left. I already feel I’m thinking about what’s coming next, even. Though I’ve only just started the job. It’s crazy, really.
It’s a hugely successful show. It must have been some buzz going into it?
I love the show and I was so excited to join. I’m just loving it, and we get such a good reaction from the audience.
I have to ask - are you familiar with Dublin at all? Have you performed over here before?
I’ve not even been. So I’m really excited to come to Dublin. We’ve got a couple of our cast from Dublin, and they’re just the loveliest people, so I’m just excited to meet more lovely people from Dublin, really.
Have you seen the original film, starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion?
I hadn’t seen the original film until just before I started. Our director recommended that I watched it - so I did. I’d never heard of it before I’d seen the show.
As it’s a musical that began as a film, it’s not quite the same as other musicals . . .
It is essentially a romcom on stage. And the songs are written by Sara Bareilles, who was already a hugely successful pop star. And the songs she’s written are just perfection.
The album itself has taken on a life of its own. Even without the stage production. And then when people come and see the theatrical production, they just seem to love it even more.
Because it’s quite real, the scenes can feel a bit like you’re watching a film. As opposed to a big show, do you know what I mean? People tend to be a bit quieter . . .
There are some big scenes. There are some musicals that are purely music, but this definitely has some big scenes as well.
What’s brilliant about it is that it’s female-led. All of the creative team are female - our MD, our director, the resident director, everyone is female. Which is absolutely brilliant.
And then the story’s lead characters are female as well. So it’s very empowering for women, but what I love is that women bring their partners along, their husbands along, their dads or fellas, or whatever.
And when I look out at the audience at the end, the men are all crying.
Your character Jenna is the eponymous waitress. Can you tell us a bit about her?
So Jenna works in a diner, and she makes all of the pies. She’s an amazing pie baker. But we very quickly realise that she bakes all her problems into a pie.
She finds out that she’s pregnant at the beginning of the show, but she doesn’t want the baby because she is in an abusive relationship.
But through the help of her two friends at the diner - Becky and Dawn - she has to face her problems. Then a new doctor comes to town, played by David Hunter, and the story unfolds from there really.
I think what’s brilliant about this story is that it perhaps doesn’t end the way people want it to, or think it’s going to. But I think it ends in the perfect way.
It’s not just about finding love, it’s about finding love in the most unexpected places, really. And it’s not just love within a relationship - it’s friendship, and love within families.
Long before your role in Casualty came along, you made your TV debut in Byker Grove. Blimey, you’ve been around a while!
I was talking to someone the other day, and it just dawned on me that I’ve actually been in the industry and working for 20 years - and I’m only 30! It was an amazing way to learn.
I was just sort of thrown in at the deep end, and just learned on the job. I had the best time. I joined Byker Grove and I didn’t leave until I was 14. And then you’re making decisions about GSCEs and everything, and it was like it wasn’t even a conscious decision.
I was just like 'I’m an actor’ because I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. There’s never really been anything else.
By then I was set in that I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
Waitress plays at Dublin’s Bord Gais Energy Theatre 7-18 June. Tickets are on sale now.