In honor of my favorite Broadway show Waitress, which announced its closing date this morning, I thought I would share my experience with it New York, 3 years ago. Like for so many others, this show changed my life. Thank you Sara Bareilles and the entire production team, actors, singers, musicians, etc. who were all involved in creating this incredible show. Here’s a bit of me to share my appreciation.
*This is a portion of an essay that was originally written in 2017*
JUNE 8, 2016
NEW YORK CITY
It was our third day in the city. I wake up to the sun shining on the next-door apartment buildings in the middle of SoHo, with a view of the bridge in the distance. Our hotel room is unbelievably small but still comfortable for three people. Three small beds fill the room decorated with silver and purple hues, leaving just enough space to walk to the bathroom. The bathroom is white and bright and it somehow felt like the largest space. There is a window over the bathtub that swings open overlooking the same apartments, giving a view into the city life.
My Mom knew that today is important to me and she was already up, to allow herself the time to get ready. Diana, my college roommate and best friend, joined us for our NYC adventure after we spent a week in Boston with her. Over the course of the trip we had amazing food and fantastic shopping in used bookstores and street markets. We had already had had some adventures with attempting to push my mother’s wheelchair over the cobblestone sidewalks and the pot-hole filled streets of New York, but I wasn’t tired yet.
I created a time schedule for out day, including the time it would take to travel on the subways. I knew exactly how long we could spend in the 9/11 museum and precisely how long we would have for meals. This day was not going to be stressful, but magical, I assured myself.
The morning was spent in sunny weather and with a sense of somber reflection at the memorial. Despite my urgency to stay on time, I found myself alone getting lost in the photos and videos, the artifacts, and displays. After finishing looking through a set of photographs I found Diana looking at a display of papers. We turn to find my Mom, front wheels up and scooting through the exhibit, managing to not hurt any other observers. I check the time.
“Oh no. We need to go now to catch that train…” Diana agrees and we herd my Mom towards the exit. After a few wrong turns up ramps and into other exhibits we were finally directed to an exit elevator. The panic started to pulse, but was easily checked by my self reassurances.
The elevator “bings,” and as it opens a large crowd of children in matching blue t-shirts begin pushing each other into the small hallway. They are yelling and laughing at each other as they shake their hair and squeeze their wet clothing. Chaperones are wearing plastic rain ponchos and create more noise as they try to organize the groups. All I could think amongst the commotion was, Not on the one day we didn’t bring jackets or umbrellas… Diana and I look at each other and I push my Mom onto the elevator.
As we reach the exit my Mom pulls out a small umbrella and opens it. “Here Becca, you use the umbrella since you’re pushing me.”
“Mom, I can’t hold the umbrella if I’m pushing you.”
“No, you can use it. Stay dry,” she replied with a smile.
Other patrons comment on the rain as they pull out ponchos and hide phones in pockets. The security guard opens the door and we begin running into the now dark and windy city. So here we are: Diana running ahead while navigating on Google Maps to find the nearest subway entrance. My Mom is sitting in the chair clutching her purse and the bag of souvenirs and books while holding the small umbrella. Then there was me, bent in half as I tried to navigate the chair over potholes, curbs, and crowds of business men. My eyes are squinting against the rain. About every half block I feel a stream of water traveling up the sleeves of my cardigan as the umbrella would slowly tip back.
“Mom, could you hold up the umbrella straighter.” I don’t even try to hide my frustration. “You’re dumping water all over me.”
“Oh I’m sorry! I’m sorry you’ve had to push all around on this trip. I feel so-” she stops mid-sentence.
“It’s fine. Let’s just focus on getting there.” I begin to feel bad, but I try not to dwell on it as we find a small staircase leading underground.
A steady stream of people are traveling down as we awkwardly help my Mom out of the chair and attempt to fold the chair as flat as possible. We disrupt the flow of traffic as Diana leads my Mother down the stairs and I awkwardly hold bags and carry the chair, hitting the fronts of my ankles every step. We receive stares and comments but I force myself to ignore them.
Make up is smeared across our faces, our curls and pins so purposefully done that morning for pictures are out of place and gone. My cardigan is hanging off my body and water squishes in my shoes. We turn a corner and find ourselves on 47th Street and Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. The small theatre entrance is lit up with a flashing blue and pink sign. Waitress stares back at me. I had been waiting months to see this show.
I had first heard about the show over a Playbill.com announcement stating that Sara Barielles’ new show had opened in London and was set to open on Broadway. A quick Google search led me to Spotify and her original album with the same title. I listened to the album countless times, memorizing all the words and the nuances of her voice. I watched the movie, again with the same title, and fell in love with the story. I watched every press release and every video released during their workshops. The feeling of I need to see this occupied me. As well as the feeling of I need to sing this music.
I look up and think, I’m here. I was about to see my first Broadway show. I was about to see and hear one of my idols, Jessie Mueller. I didn’t care that I was wet and cold.
We reached the door and the usher pushed us inside the crowded entrance full of older couples. I suddenly realized the small lobby was ill suited for Mom’s cumbersome wheelchair, and I started guiding mom gently through the crowds, careful to make sure I didn’t bang into anyone’s ankles. I’d maneuvered nearly to the front of the line when a woman stepped back abruptly, crunching her leg right into the metal foot rests.
“Watch where you’re going!” she yelled out, turning to face mom. “You ran into me!” Then she looked directly into my eyes and pointed, “You need watch where you’re pushing that thing.” She wheeled around and stormed away.
I stood there speechless, my hands gripping the wheelchair handles hard.
“Becca?” my mom’s soft voice broke the trance. She was looking up at me, concern in her eyes. I bit my lip and pushed her up to the ticket window, angry tears beginning to burn the edges of my eyes.
We enter the theatre and the smell of warm sugar overcomes us. Pie. The theatre smelled like pie. I steer us to our seats in silence, dripping and cold. The pages of the programs were gumming up and sticking to our wet hands.
I didn’t care. All I could think was, Why would someone say something like that to a woman in a wheelchair?
We sit down. I don’t even notice that I’m crying or the little jars of pie my Mom bought. I wish we were just back in the warm hotel room, away from these people, I thought for a moment—and at that precise second, as if on cue, the lights began to dim and the theater was transformed.
The space surrounding the stage lights up. Towers of pies are spinning and a diner appears. The familiar, but different, music started. The curtain was raised and I was in another world. I didn’t care that some old woman’s phone started going off. I didn’t care that I could feel my toes squishing in the bottom of my wet shoes. I didn’t care that the air conditioner was making the skin on the back of my hands and neck chill, or that my tears hadn’t stopped. I was in the world of Jenna at Joe’s Pie Diner.
By the time we reached Act II, and Jenna’s husband has thrown his guitar at her, she has lost her last chance of ever escaping a life she didn’t want or deserve. She is also about to give birth. The entire theatre is entranced and the F# major chord fills the room. She starts singing:
It’s not simple to say. That most days I don’t recognize me…
In the seat next to me, mom gasps. In the dark of the theater, I don’t see the tears, but I can hear her sobs and sniffles. The rest of the theatre is sniffling, too and I am hypnotized by Jessie Mueller’s voice and storytelling.
She is lonely, but 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!
“That’s me!” Mom whispers, and I try not to think about it, try not to let the emotions overwhelm me, because I’m afraid I won’t be able to stop from breaking down.
My Mother lived through the childhood that you see in movies and books: childhoods that had nasty divorces and lack of love, with moments of joy and family. Filled with events that affected my Mom so deeply mentally and physically that I have never really been able to fully understand her. We have our things that we connect with, music especially but nothing deep. All I could see was the unfulfilled promises, the days where she couldn’t leave her bed because of chronic and mental illness, and the occasional fights we would get in when she tried to become involved in my life and threaten my independence.
In Act 3, Jenna sings of her realization that she is a completely different person than the one she was before, the one she liked to be. But she knows she can’t go back. I realized it in the same moment that Jenna did on stage: that I have felt that way too. We are alike: Jenna, my Mom, and I—and this sense made me feel closer to Mom than I’ve felt in a long time.
As the show ends we all stand and cheer. It was so surreal to see the human beings who changed my life and me in a moment. As the lights come back up Diana, my Mom, and I all look at each other. We are all disheveled from the wind and rain. Our hair is still dripping and our eyes are puffy from the crying.
“Becca I hope you are happy, despite everything we went through to get here.”
“Oh Mom I loved it. I really did love it. I don’t care about anything that happened before.”
“I’m sorry that I was crying through all of that. I just couldn’t help relating. That’s exactly how I felt when I had you. All I wanted was to the best I could for you. I hope I gave you what you wanted”
“You did Mom. You did.”
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
I left that theatre changed. The rest of the trip wasn’t magical or full of ease. More adventures happened, including a stolen wheelchair from that very theatre… But I was changed from it all.
Waitress changed my life. I have seen it twice since that day in NYC and I would see it 10 more times. That song has had different meanings for me since that day. I have turned to it, cried to it, and jumped for joy because of it. I discovered my voice and myself singing it and I couldn’t be more grateful. Don’t worry… I’ll write about all that someday soon. But…
Thank you Sara B. Thank you New York. Thank you Broadway.
Thanks for the adventure Waitress the Musical…