‘Waitress’ Star Desi Oakley Is Sprinkling Sugar Across America
Sugar, butter and flour is being served all across America because of the hit Broadway musical “Waitress,” which is currently in the midst of its first national tour. Featuring songs by Sara Bareilles, the stage adaptation of the 2007 movie centers on Jenna, a pregnant diner server who hopes her exceptional pies will lead to a better life.
The show’s star, Desi Oakley, chats with TodayTix about bringing the show on the road. (It includes trying delicious desserts all over the country!) Next up, the show starts performances at the National Theatre in Washington D.C. on May 15.
You’re the first actor to play Jenna on the “Waitress” tour. How have the reactions been?
This is such a special show, and to go out there and see the different audiences around America has been so fascinating. It’s set in “Small Town, USA,” so when we’re out on the road and in smaller towns outside of New York, audiences are on their feet and loving it. But there’s also this personal tie — they find a connection to Jenna or Dawn or Becky or Ogie because the characters we’re playing are such real people.
How did you feel when you first saw “Waitress” on Broadway?
I saw it with the original cast and absolutely loved it. Sometimes, actors watch shows and think, “I’m gonna be in that show!” But not me. I just sat there and let the show wreck me a little bit; I just let the story unfold before me. I didn’t look ahead at my career. I was just a true patron of the theater, and I looked at the show because it was so enough.
How was this audition different than others you’ve experienced?
Walking in the room and singing a Sara Bareilles song for Sara Bareilles is so intimidating, to say the least! But she’s just so cool and down-to-earth and approachable. The whole team — not to mention, of women — was so wonderful. It was an incredibly nurturing room, and I felt it from the beginning. I ended up really enjoying the audition, and it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed one.
“Waitress” has the big ballad “She Used to Be Mine” — how do you prepare for that big moment?
Jenna takes over starting at curtain, so I try to be Desi as much as possible. That’s been one of the hardest challenges while on the road: maintaining my sense of self and separating the character from myself. Jenna is so relatable and has an accent that is how a lot of my family talks. She almost comes naturally to me, and I’ve grown to love her. So I FaceTime my friends, I read my book, I do yoga, I try to find something fun in each city. It’s about playing Desi and remembering my true identity so Jenna can thrive onstage.
What special items did you bring from home to comfort you on tour?
My best friend Caroline Bowman got me a mug in one of my first contracts, and I drink tea out of it at the theater every night. Also, my mother flew out to New York to teach me how to bake a pie, and a wonderful photographer friend took photos of us. We put it up in every dressing room, and seeing my hands with hers in the flour, it helps me every night. I could go on, because I definitely padded myself up with things to keep me grounded while I’m away from home!
How much pie have you actually eaten on the “Waitress” tour?
I definitely do try to stay fit, but if I hear from locals that I must go to a pie shop, I will do what it takes and get there. In Dallas, I went to Emporium Pies and tried their classic blueberry pie [called Blue Steel], and it was kind of one of the greatest things of all time.