The musical Waitress was first conceptualized and performed in 2015 at the American Repertory Theatre. It is based on an independent movie of the same title, released in 2007 and written and directed by Adrienne Shelly, who also acted in the film, playing the character of Dawn. Keri Russell played Jenna, the lead, and Dr. Pomatter was played by Nathan Fillion. The film was critically well-received, and praised for Shelley’s style in telling stories of women. Sadly, though, before the film’s release, Adrienne Shelley was victim to a robbery and murdered in her apartment. She never got to see the completion of the project she had so carefully envisioned and cultivated with contributions from so many other women. Her spirit continues to live on in future projects inspired by her film, however. Jessie Nelson, author of the book for the Waitress musical, used some of Shelley’s extra script material, provided to her by Shelley’s family, to flesh out the libretto of the stage show and even more deeply invest in creating Shelley’s desired world. True to the legacy of the film, the Broadway run of Waitress, which premiered in April 2016, made Broadway history with an all-woman creative and production team.
The overlying themes most strongly represented in Waitress, the show and movie, all seek to discuss the devaluing of women’s labor, both physical and emotional. Jenna’s pie making exists as the perfect metaphor to confront this; baking is seen in contemporary society as strictly a ‘woman’s’ craft. The skills, knowledge, and training required to be a talented baker are often overlooked and undervalued by those who experience the end result, because we are taught as a society that ‘accomplishments’ don’t look like the ‘chores’ women have performed for generations in the home. Just as Earl dismisses the importance of Jenna’s talent and skill in baking, he is equally willing to do the same to her emotional commitments to him. Because pie making is not seen as a valued or skilled contribution to a household, Jenna’s craftsmanship cannot protect her the way a man’s chosen skill might set him apart. This allows Earl, other naysayers in Jenna’s life, and at times even Jenna herself, to demean her value and worth as a household provider and craftsman, on both material and emotional levels. In Waitress, the making of pies is depicted being both minimized by men who seek to hamper the women in their lives and recognized for its true value by people who understand the craft and skill it takes. This reflects the way women commonly perform emotional labor without appreciation, and reminds the audience that stereotypically ‘feminine’ crafts are vital places from which women should draw strength and achievement. The way Jenna’s pies are devalued by so many who choose to devalue her as a person as well is reminiscent of the silent strength of women's labor in a man’s world, and why women create these peaceful sanctuaries for themselves in domestic activities where they are allowed to feel accomplished amongst their peers who see their value.