Desi Oakley is donning an apron and baking her way across the country as Jenna in the national tour of WAITRESS. Oakley is taking on the central role, originated on Broadway by Tony winner Jessie Mueller. Inspired by Adrienne Shelly’s beloved film, the show was brought to life by a groundbreaking all-female creative team. Oakley is no stranger to strong female roles. Her onstage credits include Elphaba in Wicked and Eva Peron in Evita. She talks about her role in WAITRESS and life on tour with Phindie writer Debra Danese.
WAITRESS will play at the Forrest Theater February 13-18, 2018.
Debra Danese: Have you ever worked as a waitress?
Desi Oakley: No I haven’t, actually!
DD: What drew you to playing the role of Jenna?
DO: I love playing strong women. Jenna Hunterson is a beautifully complicated creature. She is so real. I call her the “every man” and the “girl next door.” She’s a dreamer, like me. I feel a responsibility to tell her story, even more so than the other dynamic women I’ve portrayed (Elphaba and Eva Peron, for example). Her skin isn’t green and no one has written a book about her. Her story is tangible. This story speaks to me because so many humans have been where Jenna is. And they are changed by watching her fight for her dreams. And that’s the most important thing.
DD: What is your pre-show warm up like?
DO: I do a good workout and eat a meal with tons of protein several hours before I leave for the theatre so I have time to digest and settle. Before I leave for the theatre, I take a steamy shower to get my body extra hydrated. I do a brief vocal warm-up in the shower to check in with the quality of my voice that day. I arrive at the theatre about an hour before curtain. I will drink hydrating tea, steam with MyPurMist, and warm up my voice fully before the waitress uniform goes on and the curtain goes up.
DD: Jenna bakes pies as a cathartic escape from her problems. What helps you de-stress?
DO: I do a lot of yoga and meditation. I love connecting the mind, body, and spirit. It promotes focus, wholeness, and peace while eliminating anxiety and stress that doing an emotionally-charged show can bring. I also love connecting with my family and friends while I’m traveling. They always help put things into perspective.
DD: What piece of advice would you give to your character?
DO: Remember what your mama told you, “Nothing’s impossible, child.”
DD: What role is on your Broadway bucket list?
DO: I would love to play “Carole King” in Beautiful, “Millie” in Thoroughly Modern Millie and “Anya” in Anastasia, just to name a few.
[Forrest Theatre] February 13-18, 2018; kimmelcenter.org