Like most people, musician Sara Bareilles had never heard of Waitress. She was told to watch the obscure dark comedy about a worker at an American diner by Diane Paulus, the Tony award-winning director who wanted Bareilles to help her put it on the stage.
The film had already met with tragedy: its writer, director and star, Adrienne Shelly, was brutally – and randomly – murdered by a construction worker three months before the release of Waitress in 2006. Mixing dark themes such as domestic abuse and infidelity with a seemingly incongruous storyline about a pie-baking competition, it was hardly a shoo-in for Broadway. Yet, as Bareilles says, Waitress held an intoxicating allure: “[Shelly] created such an interesting and unusual world, it was like nothing I had ever seen before.”
In February, Waitress will make its West End debut after delivering a lucrative slice of musical pie in the US. When it opened in New York in 2016 it instantly broke box office records at the Brooks Atkinson Theater, taking $145,000 on its first preview and selling out thereafter, superseding Wicked in the list of the top five highest-grossing shows on Broadway. Four days after opening, Waitress earned four Tony nominations, including Best Musical.
It was also the first show on Broadway to have women fill the top creative spots: Paulus as director, Jessie Nelson writing the book, Lorin Latarro as choreographer and Bareilles responsible for the lyrics and the music.
A former pop star, Bareilles’s success is all the more impressive for her apparently seamless transition to Broadway – a move few other musicians have managed so well. “I found not being in the spotlight to be satisfying in a way that I would have never predicted,” she says. “I am a total ham, so I thought it’d be harder to let it all go, but I loved it.”