Earlier this summer, it was announced that “Waitress” on Broadway will have its closing performance on January 5, 2020. This will mark an almost four-year run at the Brooks Atkinson Theater.
One reason many say “Waitress” — based on the 2007 film with music written by Sara Bareilles — has had such a long run is its celebrity casting.
From American Idol alums Jordin Sparks and Katharine McPhee to pop singer Bareilles herself, the lead role of Jenna has been passed down through classic Broadway powerhouses — Nicolette Robinson, Jessie Mueller — to more mainstream celebrities. The supporting roles of Dawn and Ogie have also been played by well-known names such as Katie Lowes of Scandal and her husband, Adam Shapiro.
From Aug. 20 to Sept. 15th, 2019, YouTube sensations Colleen Ballinger and Todrick Hall took the stage as Dawn and Ogie.
Colleen Ballinger is best known on YouTube as the over-confident and clownish character Miranda Sings. She has toured the nation and has even produced a Netflix special as well as a Netflix original series, “Haters Back Off,” as her alter ego.
Before Miranda Sings ever caught on, however, Ballinger studied vocal performance and spent many years working in musical theater.
In an interview with “The Broadway Cast,” Ballinger said, “My goal was to be on Broadway since I was a little girl. That was always — that was the ultimate dream, still.”
Though I am a fan of Ballinger, I was not expecting to be blown away by her performance as Dawn; I was more excited to see her fulfill a dream. It was initially difficult to separate Ballinger from her Internet persona — I even found myself chuckling at the thought of Miranda Sings sneaking onto a Broadway stage.
There are some similarities between the two characters — an awkwardness, a naivete. For this reason, I saw some of Miranda sneaking in Ballinger’s performance. I was pleasantly surprised, however, at the vulnerability Ballinger showed during her solo song, “When He Sees Me.”
Vulnerability isn’t a trait we get to see in Miranda Sings, and by portraying it so well as Dawn, Ballinger was able to fully inhabit her new role. She also carried her musical parts well, singing “When He Sees Me” in its original key though it has previously been brought down for other celebrity actors.
Steinhardt sophomore Joyelle Watkins said, “There are possibly some crossovers between Dawn and Miranda, characterwise.”
It didn’t feel as if Ballinger intended to mimic Miranda, but as I assume much of the crowd was there to see Ballinger specifically, the moments when she fell into those habits proved distracting.
What ultimately kept me in the world of “Waitress” was Broadway alum Alison Luff, who played Jenna, as her ease on the Broadway stage and classic musical theatre voice ultimately grounded the show. It prevented Ballinger’s and Hall’s star status from taking away from what the story of “Waitress” really is: the story of a woman mired in a set of bad circumstances.
As “Waitress” plays out its final months on Broadway, fans anxiously await further cast announcements, excited to see what big names the show still has in its back pocket. While my personal hope is for composer and lyricist Sara Bareilles to close out the role of Jenna, only time will tell who will be next.
You can rush Waitress for $48 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
Email Liv Rocklin at [email protected]