Jenna Hunterson, a waitress and talented pie baker working at Joe’s Diner in a small Southern town, feels trapped.
Jenna is in a loveless marriage, and after discovering she is unexpectedly pregnant, she begins an impulsive affair with her new gynecologist, Dr. Jim Pomatter. Jenna hopes to enter a local pie-baking contest and use the prize money to leave her husband and begin a new life with her future child.
Such is the plot of “Waitress,” a musical based on the 2007 comedy-drama film of the same name starring Keri Russell. The production will have an eight-show run at the Peace Center from May 8-13.
Desi Oakley, who plays Jenna, describes her character as “more or less stuck in a lot of ways.”
“A lot of her dreams over the years have been forgotten and squelched in a lot of ways,” she says.
But Jenna has a built-in support system through her friendships with fellow waitresses Becky and Dawn and the diner’s grumpy but kind-hearted owner, Joe. “Her eyes are sort of open[ed] to her reality and potential … and she starts to really accept herself through them,” Oakley says.
For Oakley, the highlight of “Waitress” is its musical numbers, written by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, who is known for chart-topping pop hits like “Love Song,” “King of Anything,” and “Brave.”
Oakley praises the songs as “remarkable to listen to” and says they all “sound like they could be on the radio.”
She singles out “A Soft Place to Land” as one of her favorites in the production. The song is performed with Charity Angel Dawson (Becky) and Lenne Klingaman (Dawn) in three-part harmony. “We’re all talking about our dreams, and they’re really different dreams, but we’re all saying the same words, so the words kind of connect us,” Oakley says. “The song is so beautiful, and it connects me to the two of them, and it’s an anchor for me throughout the show.”
At the heart of “Waitress” is an exploration of everyday people who have everyday problems but also great hopes and dreams.
“It’s so relatable. It’s so real. It’s so universal. It’s so down-to-earth,” Oakley says. “It’s such a fun, lighthearted but really deep piece of theater. You can laugh one minute and cry the next.”
“I know audiences will really eat it up — no pun intended,” she adds.
WHEN: May 8-13, times vary
WHERE: The Peace Center, 300 S. Main St.