CADCH Waitress 1200x450
CADCH Waitress 1200x450

Charity Angél Dawson & Caitlin Houlahan on Waitress‘ Big Screen Debut

The pies are back in the oven! The musical Waitress is getting the stage-to-screen treatment with the musical’s live-capture receiving a five-day nationwide movie theatre release, beginning December 7.

The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2016 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, now called the Lena Horne Theatre, was based on Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film. It tells the story of a waitress and pie maker named Jenna who is stuck in a terrible marriage and finds out she’s pregnant. A baking contest in town may offer her a way out.

Sara Bareilles, who wrote the music and lyrics for the musical, stars as Jenna in the new film adaptation alongside Eric Anderson (Cal), Charity Angél Dawson (Becky), Christopher Fitzgerald (Ogie), Drew Gehling (Dr. Pommater), Caitlin Houlahan (Dawn), Dakin Matthews (Joe), and Joe Tippett (Earl).

Directed by Diane Paulus and featuring an all-female creative team, the musical had actually closed on Broadway in January 2020. SIX took over the theatre with an opening night set for March 12, 2020 — the day Broadway shuttered for a historic year and a half. During the shutdown, Waitress announced it would return to Broadway for a limited run and became the first musical to reopen, on September 2, 2021, this time at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. It ran until that December.

Several members of the original cast returned for this film version, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this past June.

Charity Angél Dawson, Sara Bareilles, and Caitlin Houlahan in Waitress: The Musical. Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street.
Charity Angél Dawson, Sara Bareilles, and Caitlin Houlahan in Waitress: The Musical. Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street.

Broadway Direct spoke with two of the musical’s stars — Caitlin Houlahan, who plays Dawn, and Charity Angél Dawson, who plays Becky, Jenna’s fellow waitresses — all about returning to the diner for this historic opportunity.

“I’m just so excited for people who weren’t able to come to New York or see it on a tour,” Houlahan told Broadway Direct. “The magic that they were able to capture in this film really has the same essence of how it felt to perform it. And I think that is something that I’m so excited for people to experience.”

Dawson added, “It gets so close-up into these performances that it showed me the show in a way that I’ve never seen before.”

When Waitress first closed at the beginning of 2020, did you think that was it? Did you have other jobs lined up?

CAITLIN HOULAHAN: I went on to do Girl From the North Country right away. I thought Waitress was closed. Done. Finished.

CHARITY ANGEL DAWSON: Before the show closed on Broadway at the Brooks, I had to go do Mrs. Doubtfire out of town at the Fifth Avenue [Theatre] in Seattle. I was at closing night [of Waitress], actually. I had just gotten back into town. But that was it. I thought it was all wrapped up in a nice little bow.

The show closed, SIX moved into the theatre, and then the pandemic started. What was the timeline when you got the phone call that Waitress was coming back?

CAD: I knew that I was going to be in Mrs. Doubtfire, but the dates lined up. [The producers] said [they] have some big plans for it. And I was over the moon.

CH: It’s the middle of the pandemic and my agent called. It’s the last thing that I expected him to be calling about. Like Charity, I was going to be coming back and doing Girl From the North Country. Everyone made it work.

Charity Angél Dawson in Waitress: The Musical. Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street.
Charity Angél Dawson in Waitress: The Musical. Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street.

When they asked you to come back, did you know it was going to be recorded?

CH: I think there were rumors, but we did not know for sure. I don’t even know when we found out; maybe we were already back in the theatre. It all happened really, really quickly.

CAD: Premiering in movie theatres nationwide was not anywhere on the brain. I just wanted to come back to Broadway to the show I love, with people I love.

What was it like to do the show again?

CAD: Joy, because we hadn’t been performing.

CH: It was this really unique experience because we weren’t going back into the theatre that we had done it in for so long. We were in this new theatre and had to adjust to the size of the Barrymore, which was totally different from the Brooks Atkinson. We were in rehearsal for four weeks, which is pretty much a normal Broadway rehearsal setup. It felt like we were remounting this show. We got to go back, look at the script through a 2020 lens, and fix this and adjust this. Bringing it back in this newfound way was an honor. Even though the show had been going for so long, it felt like we were originating something.

I mean, it was a whole different world at that point.

CAD: I was a new person. I realized I came in with a completely different heart, different mindset, and a different approach. I was able to approach it with completely new eyes. I’ve been a part of Waitress since ART, the out-of-town pre-Broadway [tryout]. I took over [the role of] Becky. I opened the [touring production] and then I came back to Broadway. I really appreciate the creative team for giving room and space to explore to make it my own. To be able to use my voice in a way that I was always welcome to, but I didn’t really know how to before that time.

Christopher Fitzgerald and Caitlin Houlahan in Waitress: The Musical. Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street.
Christopher Fitzgerald and Caitlin Houlahan in Waitress: The Musical. Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street.

What was your reaction watching the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival?

CH: Charity and I got to sit next to each other. It was the only way I wanted to watch this premiere. We’re watching this for the first time with 300 — I don’t even know how many people — in the theatre with us. It was terrifying. As a stage actor, you don’t see yourself on screen a ton. So you’re not really sure what your acting is going to look like. I also hadn’t seen the show since I joined in 2016, so being able to see the entire show and sit next to Charity, my rock through doing the show, we were able to just love on each other. After everyone’s big moments, after everyone’s big songs, all of the cast members would pat each other on the shoulders and kind of give elbow bumps.

CAD: I had been blessed to sit and watch the show quite a bit. But to get in here with Caitlin’s performance of Dawn, Christopher Fitzgerald’s performance of Ogie, Dakin Matthews and Sara Bareilles, was just — that’s what y’all were doing? That’s what y’all been giving this whole time?

What was it like having Sara Bareilles in the leading role, as opposed to perhaps any of the other actresses who played the part?

CH: It’s just so unique, right? You’re singing a song that she wrote, but you’re singing it to her face and she’s smiling. It’s a “pinch me” moment. How did I know this wouldn’t be happening when I was in eighth grade and saw Sara play in Syracuse?

CAD: I’ve been a huge Sara Bareilles fan for years. When she took over on Broadway the first time, I’d been cool about this the whole time. But now I’m gonna be singing in your face or you’re gonna be singing back in my face. I just have to go ahead and say it: I have been obsessed with you forever. And she was like, “Wow, you have a great poker face.” The thing about Sara is, she’s just such a regular person that you forget because you’re just playing with your fellow actor on stage.

Are there any fun behind-the-scenes moments that the audience won’t see or the audience should look for?

CAD: There’s a moment where there’s not a banquette in the back of the diner because of the way we had to configure things. So they’re kind of just standing at their tables drinking. I remember leaning over to Caitlin, laughing. And my dress had been worn out, baby, because I had been wearing this thing since 2016. So I had a little patchwork here. And I was like, Ooh they caught the patches.

CH: Dawn’s glasses do not have glass in them, because they would be extremely reflective. But in the film version, you can definitely tell that there’s nothing in those glasses. That’s either canon with who Dawn is, or just a fun little tidbit.

Charity, you were in the original cast of Waitress with the late Nick Cordero as Earl. When the show returned in 2021, he was no longer with us. There was a pie created in his memory. Tell me a little bit about how it felt to do this film without him, because most of the original cast came back.

CAD: It was heartbreaking watching him walk through COVID. I can speak for myself: took that charge to “live your life,” the charge he gave us. He was just the most beautiful spirit and just the most magnificent guy. Carrying that charge he gave us was important for me.

CH: The pie name is definitely on the [diner set] chalkboard. There’s also a line that was added. Charity, I think you’re the one who says the line, is that right?

CAD: “A Big Ol’ Slice of Live Your Life Pie!”

How did you feel saying that?

CAD: It’s about honoring as we honor all of our ancestors, and he is one of them for us. To send that love up toward him every night was really, really, really special.