The story of the latest Broadway San Jose show is one of friendship, love and pop music in a small town. “Waitress” is a musical comedy that brings Grammy Award nominee Sara Bareilles’ songwriting to the stage.
Based on the 2007 film of the same name starring Keri Russell, the show focuses on a waitress and gifted pie maker named Jenna, who is looking for a way out of her loveless marriage and small town.
Jenna puts her heart and her dreams into the pies she makes at a restaurant she works at with her two good friends, and daydreams of the aforementioned “way out”. But soon, events and people will come into her world and change her life immeasurably.
Ryan Ballard, who is a born and raised San Jose native, recently talked to EO about his role in the touring production of “Waitress”, and why it’s a story of friendship, love, and just an all-around great pop adventure to experience.
Hey Ryan, thanks for the time. To start off I just wanted to know how you began your journey into the performing arts.
The very first play that I did, I was probably 6 and that was called the Children’s Playhouse. I did I think three or four shows there but when I really started to get serious was at the Children’s Musical Theater in San Jose, CMTSJ. And that’s really where I got serious about performing around the age of eight. I was a really shy kid and performing very quickly brought me out of my shell.
I loved it so much and made so my friends immediately and started just doing four shows every year. So, that was like my whole life. My sister and I both did CMT, my parents were super involved, and I definitely would attribute CMT to sort of starting the whole thing.
So, is “Waitress” your first national tour?
Yeah. I’ve worked professionally at theaters around the country, but this is a big deal because it’s the first tour that I’ve done. The first Broadway national tour It’s very exciting.
So, I went to college. I went to Ithaca College for Musical Theater and I graduated in 2018, and it took me about a year of auditioning to get this. So, it was I was I was auditioning in May, then I found out around June. It was almost exactly a year of being on the grind in New York. I was working at a photography museum and I was catering and auditioning a lot. I probably did 60 auditions at least. And I did I did small gigs throughout the year.
I did a show in New York called “Bubble Boy” that was off Broadway and then I was actually a singer in a flamenco show in Queens, so that was definitely an interesting experience.
Thanks, sounds like quite the time. Now, could you give me an idea of the story behind “Waitress”?
I think this story covers a lot of things. But first and foremost, it’s about the power of women and the power of female friendship. There’s also a huge theme of motherhood. It’s seems like a light musical on the surface, especially as it starts. But there are definitely some darker themes beneath the surface. I would say at its core it’s about the three women, Jenna, Becky and Dawn.
Could you tell me a bit about your role(s) in the show?
So, I’m in the ensemble and everyone in the ensemble is onstage for a lot of the show. We’re very ingrained in the story and movement of the show. It’s very theatrical in terms of how the ensemble is used.
We really represent Jenna’s psyche. Jenna is the lead in the show. And we sort of move around the stage with lots of different props and complicated choreography and the ensemble really helps Jenna through the story of the show. For example, sometimes she into a little bit of a dream sequence when she’s thinking up a pie that she wants to make.
And I should mention a huge part of the story is that she bakes pies and she’ll go into a daydream about the pie that she’s making and usually the pie will be about something that’s going on in her life.
There’s one called “Betrayed By My Eggs Pie”, when she finds out she’s pregnant, and as she’s talking about this pie she cracks an egg combines it with sausage, and I run out and I hold a sausage and I drop it in the bowl and I run off.
There’s a lot of constant moving – like I do a lot of lifting and a little bit of dancing a lot of singing in every number so. It’s really about supporting the lead.
From what I read you’re understudying the characters of Dr. Jim Pomatter and Earl Hunterson?
Yeah. And they’re very different characters too. The doctor is sort of sensitive, neurotic, intelligent and Earl is cocky, arrogant, rude, and not very bright. And Earl has a southern accent, and Dr. Palmer’s from Connecticut. So, it’s pretty cool to stretch myself in two different directions. I’m having fun with that.
[Since] I’m also understudying two of the lead guys in the show, that’s a big responsibility. I haven’t gone on yet but, now that the show is up and running, it’s my main focus now. To really make sure I’m ready to go on at a moment’s notice, and because it is a tour, I know at some point I’ll get to go on.
It’s hard because we have very little rehearsal just about once a week for a couple of hours. So that’s definitely nerve wracking and exhilarating. The thought of doing this show as one of the leads [is] super exciting and I’m just doing what I can be ready for that moment.
I was wondering throughout the show do you have a specific scene or moment that you would say is your favorite, whether it’s watching from the wings or being a part of onstage?
Yeah. I love this show and there are so many moments that I watch offstage and I still get sucked into even though I know the show so well. There’s a scene called “A Soft Place to Land” and that’s a song between the three lead women and they’re all making a pie together and it’s just like this beautiful moment of friendship and love between them, and that’s the real love story.
Usually in other shows the love story would be about a man and a woman but the true love story in “Waitress” is really about these three women and their friendship. There’s this moment where Jenna blows flowers out of her hand and it looks kind of like pixie dust. So, I love that moment, it’s just really a beautiful, magical moment in the show.
Now for folks that may not be very familiar with the show or the source material, why would you recommend they watch “Waitress”?
Well it’s really funny and heartfelt and the music by Sara Bareilles is amazing. I think it’s probably some of my favorite music that I’ve ever heard in a Broadway show because it’s contemporary. I think that a lot of modern audiences who don’t necessarily listen to musicals will really enjoy it and resonate with this particular style, because it’s pop music!
It’s basically like music you’d hear on the radio. It’s super great. Like I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for four years, ever since it came out. So, even before I knew I was going to be on the show – I just listen to it for fun.
And lastly, since you’re from the region are you going to have friends and family in attendance at your San Jose shows?
I’m pretty sure everyone I’ve ever known is coming to the show. It’s going to be insane.
“Waitress” is at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts from December 17 – December 22.