Saturday, January 04, 2020

As WAITRESS Musical Ends Its Run, It’s Like Saying Goodbye to Adrienne…Again

Tomorrow night’s performance will be the last for WAITRESS after an incredible four-year run on Broadway. As with most things about my late wife Adrienne Shelly these past thirteen years, this is an incredibly bittersweet moment. 

While it will be sad to see the show’s curtain rising for the last time, it is also cause for celebration of Adrienne, her work and her legacy. A legacy that this talented, determined, dedicated company helped expand with this beloved musical adaptation of her sweet story.

Adrienne was brutally murdered November 1, 2006 in what her killer staged as a suicide. She died a struggling filmmaker, anxiously awaiting word from the Sundance Film Festival whether WAITRESS, the little indie film she wrote, directed and starred in, would be accepted. 

It was. News of that coveted entry came the same morning as the eventual arrest of her murderer. Talk about bittersweet.

The film not only ‘got in’ the January 2007 festival, it debuted Saturday night before 1300 at the Eccles Theater and was sold hours later for almost $4-million to Fox Searchlight. Four months later it premiered in theaters nationwide and was the 4th highest-grossing film in the country over Memorial Day weekend.

Adrienne never lived to see even the smallest shred of its success.

Stage rights to the film were purchased in 2007, and the journey to Broadway began. It opened in April 2016 at the Brooks Atkinson Theater. 

I was a bit skeptical and, quite frankly, concerned when I first learned that WAITRESS was being adapted into a Broadway musical. It was more than a film to me. More than a story. It was Adrienne; who she was, what she represented and what I had been charged with protecting. Her legacy, and preserving the integrity of her work, was all I cared about. 

But I eventually heard the music composed by Sara Bareilles and was blown away by how she so masterfully captured the heart and tone of what Adrienne wrote. And then I learned that Jessie Mueller would play Jenna, the lead character. I’d seen her the night before in BEAUTIFUL and was awed by her performance. 

That was the moment I shed my concerns and knew the production would be a truly successful, organic extension of Adrienne’s work. A production I also believed Adrienne herself would’ve loved.
Over the last four years the city has been blitzed with promotion for the show. There are actors dressed as waitresses handing out fliers in Times Square. There are giant billboards and ads on garbage cans, buses and taxis. Times Square looks and feels like ‘Waitress headquarters.’

One night in the East Village my daughter Sophie and I stepped into the street, raised our arms and hailed a cab. When it pulled to the curb we marveled that on its roof was a big WAITRESS ad. It was as if Adrienne was following us. Always with us. 

And she was. The show brought her back. For four years she was with us again. Perhaps not in life, but surely in spirit. And it was great for Sophie to witness this cultural explosion of Adrienne’s legacy project and the awesomeness of the mother she so tragically and heartbreakingly lost when she was just two.

And now the show is leaving us. She’s leaving us. Again.  

And so the grieving continues. It never ends. 

But we will surely savor the success of the show and what it’s done for Adrienne’s legacy and the impact it’s had on our family. 

Sugar, butter, flour

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