Friday, February 9, 2018

WAITRESS, PLEASE!

The West Coast has San Francisco, the East Coast has Fire Island. And Broadway. I have to admit I’m kind of afraid of Fire Island—all those stories and all that sand getting in unwanted places. So, yeah, just Broadway. So many musicals and plays with gay storylines or with a diva to bring out the gays.
La Cage aux Folles.
Torch Song Trilogy.
The Boys in the Band.
Rent.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Angels in America.
Hello, Dolly.
But not Cats. Please, no. (Except for that one lovely song. I prefer the Betty Buckley version to Barbra’s. Is that scandalous?)
Amidst all the flashy colossal signs, the throngs of tourists, the honking taxis and opportunistic Elmos, there’s a veritable gay Mecca. And for me to say I flew from Vancouver to New York City for the sole purpose of seeing a Broadway show, well, that’s gotta make up for the Barbra slight. Perhaps the particular Broadway show, however, may be a head scratcher. I didn’t go to see the revival of Angels in America. I’d seen a production of it in Vancouver long ago and, well, I’m not sure I have the attention span to sit through it again. A one-time experience. Neither did I go to see the revival of Hello, Dolly. (Bette Midler’s finished her stint and now it’s Bernadette Peters whom I’ve always found annoyingly nasal. Sacrilege?) I didn’t even go for Dear Evan Hansen. Would have loved to have seen it but, frankly, I’m too cheap to opt for a show that doesn’t have discounted prices through TKTS. Blame it, in part, on a lousy exchange rate for my Canadian dollars.
This trip was about the musical “Waitress”. I’d seen the movie with Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion and Andy Griffith years ago. (Side note: Whenever I’m in New York, I make a pit stop at a Dean & DeLuca because that’s where Keri Russell’s character on “Felicity” worked while attending NYU.) That movie, a quiet charmer, wouldn’t have been enough to make me see it as a musical.
Over the last three years, I’ve grown into becoming a huge Sara Bareilles fan. I was already familiar with “Love Song” and “King of Anything” but Sara’s songs took on more meaning when I bought her “The Blessed Heart” CD because of the song “Brave” and then became wowed by every song on it. “I Choose You” is a joyful celebration of love I wish someone would play for me someday, “Manhattan” is a lyrically melancholy masterpiece and I could go on. Search for these songs online if you’re not familiar with them (or just click the links).
A couple her other songs took on greater poignancy after I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. “Gravity” could be a song linking someone to the wrong partner or referring to a struggle with addiction, but for me it’s all about the hold depression can have over me. Somehow I can bawl my eyes out as the song plays and it’s therapeutic. Instead of unsuccessfully trying to banish depression, the song offers a means of acknowledging it and that, in turn, makes it bearable. Then came “She Used to Be Mine”, a song Sara wrote for the musical “Waitress”, and the links deepened. Like that guy in Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly”, Sara flipped the gender but the words seemed to be mine:
It's not simple to say
That most days I don't recognize me
That these shoes and this apron
That place and its patrons
Have taken more than I gave them.
It's not easy to know
I'm not anything like I used be, although it's true
I was never attention's sweet center
I still remember that girl.

She's imperfect, but she tries
She is good, but she lies
She is hard on herself
She is broken and won't ask for help
She is messy, but she's kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone, but she used to be mine.

It's not what I asked for
Sometimes life just slips in through a back door
And carves out a person and makes you believe it's all true
And now I've got you.
And you're not what I asked for
If I'm honest, I know I would give it all back
For a chance to start over and rewrite an ending or two
For the girl that I knew

Who'll be reckless, just enough
Who'll get hurt, but who learns how to toughen up
When she's bruised and gets used by a man who can't love
And then she'll get stuck
And be scared of the life that's inside her
Growing stronger each day 'til it finally reminds her
To fight just a little, to bring back the fire in her eyes
That's been gone, but used to be mine.

Sara Bareilles wrote the music and lyrics for all of the songs in “Waitress” and that’s what made the show such a draw. I knew when “Waitress” was to debut on Broadway: April 24, 2016. I couldn’t make it then due to work. I waited until August of last year to finally go. And I loved it. I couldn’t have been happier.
Until mid-November, that is, when I read that Jason Mraz was going to play Dr. Pomatter for seven weeks or so, beginning in early December. (I’m a big fan of his music and, incidentally, his vegan principles.) I wanted to go again but held off. It was too soon since I’d last been to New York and I chose to go to Sweden instead. (Depression finds me always needing to be on the run.)
And then around Christmas I Googled Sara because I was wondering when she’d have a new album out. What I discovered instead was that she was going to play the lead role, Jenna, in “Waitress” for six weeks, two of which overlapped with Jason Mraz.

And that’s how I ended up feeling the pull back to Broadway. Two full days of travel—one each way—but it was entirely worth it. There’s a term for “Rent” fanatics: Rentheads. Is there one for “Waitress” groupies? Am I a budding Piehole? I could go once a month. There’s something about knowing the songs better and appreciating the jokes more. Even after seeing it twice, I enjoyed comparing actors in some of the other roles that had changed since August. More than anything, to see the musical with Sara and Jason together had me downright giddy, a remarkable reaction considering how profoundly I’ve struggled over the last few months. Gay again, in the Broadway way and the old-fashioned happy way.

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