Waitress the Musical, which will play eight performances on May 1-6 at the Durham Performing Arts Center as part of DPAC‘s ultra-crowding-pleasing 2017-18 SunTrust Broadway Series, made Broadway history on April 24, 2016, when it opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, with women occupying all four top positions on its creative team: director, choreographer, composer, and book writer. Directed by four-time Tony Award® nominee and 2013 Tony winner for Best Direction of a Musical Diane Paulus (Pippin) and choreographed by Drama Desk Award nominee Lorin Latarro, the show features pop music and lyrics by six-time Grammy® and two-time Tony Award nominee Sara Bareilles (Waitress in 2016 and SpongeBob SquarePants in 2018) and a book by Drama Desk Award nominee Jessie Nelson, based on the 2007 motion picture, written and directed by Adrienne Shelly and starring Keri Russell in the title role as Jenna Hunterson, an unhappily married server and pie baker extraordinaire for Joe’s Pie Diner, located somewhere in a small town in the American South.
“Sara Bareilles has written so many radio hits, and she has smoothly segued into musical theater,” claims 38-year-old Langhorne, PA native Bryan Fenkart, who is playing Dr. Jim Pomatter, OB-GYN, on tour. Fenkart adds, “This show is a very empowering show, particularly for women. It’s the first show to have an all-female director, choreographer, composer and lyricist, and dramatist…. That makes it feel a little more important than your average Broadway musical.”
The American Repertory Theater at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, gave Waitress its world premiere on Aug. 2, 2015 at the Loeb Drama Center, where it ran through Sept. 27, 2015. ART thumbnailed the show as follows: “Jenna [is] a waitress and expert pie maker, [who] is stuck in a small town and a loveless marriage. When a baking contest in a nearby county offers her a chance at escape, Jenna must choose between her commitments and her dreams. Her customers, co-workers, and the town’s handsome new doctor all offer her conflicting recipes for happiness — but Jenna ultimately has to decide for herself. This poignant and uplifting new musical celebrates friendship, motherhood, and the courage it takes to pluck a long-abandoned dream off the shelf….”
Waitress made its Broadway debut on April 24, 2016 — and is still running — at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where it had played 841 performances as of April 29, 2018 and earned four 2016 Tony Award nominations, including nominations for Best Musical and Best Original Score Written for the Theatre (Sara Bareilles). The show’s original Broadway production also earned six Drama Desk Award nominations, including nominations for Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Music, Outstanding Lyrics, and Outstanding Book of a Musical (Jessie Nelson).
“Any time you turn something into a musical,” says Bryan Fenkart, “you have to add a bit more than music. You have to add theatrical magic … unrealistic, magical elements…. You can’t just toss songs in.”
He adds, “The National Tour is very close to the Broadway production. They have cleaned up some of the language and some of the more risqué choreography. But otherwise it’s very close to the Broadway production in most ways.”
The 2017-18 National Tour of this musical, produced by Barry and Fran Weissler and Norton and Elayne Herrick, directed by Diane Paulus, and choreographed by Lorin Latarro, commenced on Oct. 17, 2017 at the Connor Palace in Cleveland, OH, and is currently scheduled to conclude on Aug. 26, 2018 at the Hollywood Pantages in Los Angeles, CA.
Besides the show’s Broadway director and choreographer, Diane Paulus and Lorin Latarro, respectively, the show’s creative team includes associate producers Brett England & Daniel M. Posener, associate director Nancy Harrington, associate choreographer Abbey O’Brien, music coordinator John Miller, set designer Scott Pask, costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb, lighting designer Christopher Akerlind, sound designer Jonathan Deans, wig & make-up designers Rachel Padula-Shufelt & Jason Allen, and production stage manager Thomas J. Gates. The show also features orchestrations by Sara Bareilles & The Waitress Band and music supervision & arrangements by Nadia DiGiallonardo.
In addition to Bryan Fenkart as Jenna’s handsome new gynecologist Dr. Pomatter, the tour stars Desi Oakley as Jenna; Charity Angél Dawson as Jenna’s formidable smack-talking fellow waitress Becky; Lenne Klingaman as their nervous, love-starved co-worker Dawn; Nick Bailey as Jenna’s abusive husband Earl; Bill Nolte as Joe the crusty owner of Joe’s Pie Diner; Ryan G. Dunkin as Jenna’s boss Cal; and Jeremy Morse as Dawn’s Internet blind date Ogie. Co-stars include Jim Hogan as Father, Kyra Kennedy as Francine, Maiesha McQueen as Nurse Norma, and Grace Stockdale as Mother. The Ensemble includes (in alphabetical order): Chante Carmel, Mark Christine, Donterrio Johnson, and Gerianne Pérez; and Swings include (in alphabetical order): fight captain Skler Adams, David Hughey, and Emily Koch.
Fenkart, who was born in 1979 Langhorne, PA but grew up in Midland Park, NJ, wasn’t exactly bitten by the “theater bug” during his Wonder Years. “I lost a bet in my sophomore year of high school,” he confesses, “and I had to join the drama that year, and I just fell in love with it.”
In 2002, Bryan Fenkart earned a BFA degree in acting from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. “I graduated at age 22,” he says, “and I moved to New York at age 25.”
Fenkart worked as a doorman at a comedy club for three years, wrote radio comedy routines for the Morning Drive, and held down a night job as a doorman. “There were a lot of sleepless nights,” he says. Meanwhile, he auditioned.
His big break came when he won the role of Huey Calhoun — a white man who loves black music … in the South … in the 1950s — in the Broadway company and on the First National Tour of Memphis. He started out in the Ensemble, understudying Huey. Later, he says, he performed the role 198 times on Broadway in a year and a half; and then reprised the role on tour for another year and nine months.
When the First National Tour of Memphis played DPAC, in January 2012, this reviewer wrote, “The charismatic characterizations and invigorating vocals of Bryan Fenkart, Felicia Boswell, and Kent Overshown pump up the volume of the exuberant National Tour of Memphis …. Bryan Fenkart is a pistol as Huey, the admittedly illiterate, self-described redneck from the title city whose impossible dream is to become the top-rated local radio-station disc jockey and a wealthy rhythm-and-blues impresario. Huey wants to play race records on formerly lily-white radio stations and stage concerts for white teenagers and young adults, featuring all African-American artists heretofore limited to strutting their stuff for all-black audiences in underground clubs on Beale Street.”
Two years ago, Bryan Fenkart auditioned for the original Broadway production of Waitress, and got close … but no cigar! He feels that his previous auditions paved the way for his success in landing the role of Dr. Pomatter on the current tour.
“Dr. James Pomatter is an OB-GYN,” says Fenkart. He’s a transplant from Connecticut. Waitress takes place in an undefined region of the South, where Pomatter is a newcomer and he’s outside his comfort zone.”
He adds, “There’s a romantic spark between Jim and Jenna. They both realize that they need something [in their unhappily married lives] to change…. He helps to awaken her to the fact that her life could be much different and better than it is under the current circumstances.”
Fenkart says, “My father is actually a doctor, so that was helpful in a lot of ways. I could always ask him a few questions, but the number of questions that you can ask your father about gynecology is limited,” he quips.
SECOND OPINION: April 28th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article209817894.html; April 25th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/waitress/Event?oid=13706284; April 25th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com preview by Kathy Hanrahan for “What’s on Tap”: https://www.wral.com/broadway-smash-waitress-heads-to-durham/17477512/; and March 21st Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW TV interview with Desi Oakley, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-Desi-Oakley-of-WAITRESS-National-Tour-20180321.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents WAITRESS THE MUSICAL at 7:30 p.m. May 1-3, 8 p.m. May 4, 2 and 8 p.m. May 5, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. May 6 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $35 and up, plus taxes and fees. Click here for $20-$30 rush tickets and other DPAC Special Offers.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/2336217.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwrwQoVsKFfRqHrWqriCxMQ.
DPAC‘S 2017-18 “TEN GREAT YEARS” SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: https://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2017-18 and https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/announcing-suntrust-broadway-at-dpac-2017-2018-season.
THE TOUR: https://waitressthemusical.com/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/waitress–514071, https://www.facebook.com/waitressmusical, https://twitter.com/waitressmusical, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waitress_(musical)#Productions, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwrwQoVsKFfRqHrWqriCxMQ.
TOUR CAST & CREATIVE TEAM: https://waitressthemusical.com/tourcast.
PARENTAL ADVISORY: On its website, DPAC writes, “… Children under the age of 6 are not allowed at this performance [emphasis added]. Children must be able to sit quietly in their own seat without disturbing other guests. As a further courtesy to our guests, DPAC recommends one parent or chaperone for every one child in attendance.”
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, May 5th, performance.
Waitress (2007 film): http://www.foxsearchlight.com/waitress/ (official website), http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/643332/Waitress/ (Turner Classic Movies page), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0473308/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waitress_(film) (Wikipedia).
Waitress (2015 American Repertory Theater at Harvard University and 2016 Broadway musical): https://waitressthemusical.com/ (official website), https://americanrepertorytheater.org/events/show/waitress (American Repertory Theater), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/waitress-502859 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waitress_(musical) (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: https://americanrepertorytheater.org/sites/default/files/uploaded/files/waitress%20toolkit%20final%208.19.pdf (American Repertory Theater).
Sara Bareilles (music and lyrics): http://waitress.sarabmusic.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/sara-bareilles-502865 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1679561/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sara_Bareilles (Wikipedia).
Jessie Nelson (book): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/jessie-nelson-502866 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0625458/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessie_Nelson_(filmmaker) (Wikipedia).
Bryan Fenkart (actor): http://www.bryanfenkart.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/bryan-fenkart-485055 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1595879/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/BryanFenkart/ (Facebook page), https://myspace.com/bryanfenkart (MySpace page), and https://twitter.com/bryanfenkart (Twitter page).
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail email@example.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)