Jessie Shelton, Christine Dwyer and Maiesha McQue perform in “Waitress.” CONTRIBUTED

Your favorite ‘Waitress’: Pie-baking heroine takes the stage at Schuster

‘We all try to pull ourselves up with humor,’ actress from ‘Waitress’ says

With everything folks in our area have been through in recent weeks, it may be the perfect time to take in an entertaining musical.

“Waitress,” the popular Broadway show about a young waitress who is an expert pie-maker, is headed to the Schuster Center June 25 to June 30. The musical, based on the 2007 film starring Keri Russell, tells the story of Jenna Hunterson, a small-town waitress who unexpectedly becomes pregnant and enters a baking contest hoping for a fresh start and a way out of her loveless and abusive marriage.

Adrienne Shelly wrote, directed and acted in the original film. Tragically, Shelly was murdered in 2006 in her Greenwich Village apartment as the film was about to be shown at Sundance. The musical is an extension and celebration of her work.

>>DOWNTOWN NEWS: Upscale casual restaurant? Paradox plans Dayton opening

The touring company of “Waitress” will come to the Schuster Center. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Staff Writer

Playing Jenna

“We touch on some dark subjects, but it’s basically a light-hearted musical,” says Christine Dwyer, who will portray Jenna in Dayton. “It’s a very hopeful musical and it makes people laugh a lot, so hopefully we can bring some joy to people in your area who’ve been affected by recent tragedy. We all try to pull ourselves up with humor when we’re going through difficult things in our lives and so does Jenna.”

The production, created at the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., in 2015, was the first Broadway musical in which the principal creative roles — book, writer, composer, choreographer and director — were all women. The original music and lyrics are by six-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles.

Dwyer, who last came to Dayton in the leading role of Elphaba in “Wicked,” has also portrayed Sylvia in “Finding Neverland,” and “Maureen in “Rent.” The role of Jenna, she says, is her favorite.

>>FOOD & DINING NEWS: Ghostlight Coffee shop announces plans for a second location in Dayton

“She’s a character more based in reality than others I’ve played and I can relate to her,” explains the actress who grew up outside of Boston. “I tend to deflect a lot of problems and throw myself into my work and that’s what Jenna does. I have a great group of girlfriends who’ve always helped me out; Jenna has important relationships with the two waitresses who work with her at the diner.”

Jenna, she adds, generally tries to find good in people and also has a lot of patience. “She takes a big journey over the course of the play, goes through so much and still finds humor,” says Dwyer. “So I get to play a whole range of emotions which is cool! That’s really fun as an actor, you don’t get to do roles like this very often.”

Dwyer says it’s exciting to be in a show where the last three bows taken during the curtain call are all women. “The show is about relationships and connections, basic human needs,” says Dwyer. “It’s about female empowerment and female friendships but men enjoy it, too.”

>>DAYTONIAN OF THE WEEK: After tornadoes, ‘It was only right that I took care of home the best way I could’

Christine Dwyer says Jenna is her favorite role. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Staff Writer

Career highlights

Dwyer has worked in television, theater and film and had some fascinating experiences. While playing Elphaba in “Wicked” on Broadway, she appeared at the Tony award ceremony to celebrate the musical’s 10-year anniversary.

“It was a crazy day!” she remembers. “The Tony show is live, but they film it also in case there’s a problem that night. So we had to get up really early in the morning and go to Radio City and film. Then we were at the theater to do a matinee, and bused back to Radio City for the award ceremony!”

She never imagined she’d be singing for a president, but the “Wicked” company represented America in Germany at the Hannover Messe trade fair with President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel attending. “It was amazing to be a part of that convention and to experience another country,” says Dwyer.

What she loves about her career, she says, is the storytelling. “It’s what gets people through hard times and it’s therapy for a lot of people and me, too,” she concludes. “I love bringing people together in one space and telling a story that affects people in different ways. It’s great to take a few hours out of a hectic day and allow yourself to be immersed in something else.”

Jennifer Nystrom’s “Key Lime and Coconut Day at the Beach” was the winner in the ‘Waitress’ pie contest. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Staff Writer

Local pie contest

To get audiences in the mood, the Victoria Theatre Association, in conjunction with Fox 45, recently hosted a pie contest, asking bakers to come up with a “Baked From the Heart” recipe. (In the musical, Jenna names her pies based on her feelings. There’s the “Almost Makes You Believe Again Pie” and the “Key (lime) to Happiness Pie.”

Local pie entries had to include a personal story symbolizing the baker’s emotional tie to the pie as well as a creative name. Examples? “Mom’s “Wake up and Smell the Coffee” pie or Grandma’s “Must Have Every Thanksgiving” pie.

Area finalists included a “Key Lime and Coconut Day at the Beach” pie submitted by Jennifer Nystrom of Clarksville; a “Lumberjack” pie from Mandy Smith of Kettering; a “Missing My Momma Pie” from Mary Alice Heinrichs of Celina and “Mom’s All American Pie” from Toni Scearce of Dayton.

Nystrom took the cake (or in this case, the pie). You’ll find her winning recipe in Wednesday’s Dayton Daily News.

Mini-pies — salted chocolate caramel pie and apple pie—will be sold during intermission at the Wintergarden during the show’s run.

>>RELATED: 2 young actresses selected to play Lulu during Dayton run of ‘Waitress’

Vivian King, 4, of Oakwood and Teagen Krekus, 3 1/2, of Lebanon, will alternate the role of “Lulu,” the daughter of the production’s main character, Jenna.
Photo: Victoria Theatre Association

Young local actors in the cast

Two young area actresses will alternate the role of “Lulu” during the Dayton engagement.

Jenna’s daughter, Lulu, will be played by 4-year-old Vivian King of Oakwood and 3-year-old Teagen Krekus of Lebanon. Both girls were chosen at an audition process presided over by members of the “Waitress” company.

X