In Waitress, the Broadway musical kicking off its national tour in Cleveland on Tuesday, Jenna is an expert baker with a personal life as messy as a piece of runny cherry pie.

On a Wednesday, the week before opening, the women who cooked up the show that audiences have been devouring for the last year and a half on Broadway sit in an impressive row in the orchestra section of the Connor Palace. They are director Diane Paulus; choreographer Lorin Latarro; book writer Jessie Nelson, tasked with adapting and augmenting Shelly’s screenplay; and Sara Bareilles, who wrote the music and lyrics.

Much has been made of the fact that the collaboration is the first time the top creatives of a Broadway show have all been women.

“I can’t tell you how many times we’d be in auditions, and people would walk in the door, stop cold in their tracks, and say, ‘Wow – I’ve never seen that before,’ ” says Paulus.

“It was almost like we’d have to be reminded. We were just in there, doing our work. And then people would walk in and say, ‘Wow.’

“And it’s not only us,” she adds, rattling off a list of other women involved in the production, including costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb, associate director Nancy Harrington and producer Fran Weissler, the better half, as Barry Weissler is fond of saying, of the veteran husband-and-wife producing partnership.

Tour 2019/20

“I don’t wanna ruin your story,” says Barry Weissler, “but we had a male choreographer at ART.” That’s the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University, where Paulus has birthed her Tony Award-winning revivals of Porgy and Bess and Pippin. In search of a different style of movement when “Waitress” made the move to Broadway, “Lorin came along, and she brought something different to the table,” says Weissler, “and then we had an all-female creative component. It just happened. I wish I could say I’d planned it.”

As for his involvement? “I’m nothing,” he quips. “I’m just the man behind the women.”

Before Nelson came on as book writer, Paulus and Bareilles were working off Shelly’s screenplay. Today Nelson describes her contribution as akin to the renovation of a historic home, a skilled craftsperson who asks, “What if we put a door here and a window there or made the hallway bigger and allowed more room?” she says. “I felt like that was my job.”

She has warmed the world Shelly created, yet kept its idiosyncrasies intact, giving the characters richer back stories. Most significantly, she has deepened the friendship among Jenna, Dawn and Becky, the third and sassiest member of the Joe’s Diner wait staff.

Once a waitress herself, Nelson understands the camaraderie that develops among servers, a battle-tested sisterhood born of cranky customers, stingy tippers and battering lunchtime rushes.

For all involved, shaping the complicated, flawed Jenna for the stage was the biggest challenge – how to keep the audience from turning against her because of some of her, how shall we put it, not so smart choices. Like, starting a torrid romance with her married baby doctor, for instance. For that, says Paulus, they needed their not-so-secret ingredient: Bareilles.

Without the understated pop star, says Paulus, “Waitress” wouldn’t have found its indie voice, one that so perfectly fit the tone of Shelly’s bittersweet tale of a woman in search of dreams she has shelved.

Her personal, intimate songwriting, says Barry Weissler, reminds him of the work of Stephen Sondheim for its ability to climb into the head of a character and explore her interior life.

Paulus agrees. “When I was first considering the project and looked at the film, I had a very strong instinct that we should bring a composer into this that would match the kind of indie spirit of the film — that maybe we should look outside the traditional musical-theater pool,” says the director, who built her dream team from Bareilles up.

That spirit, says Paulus, is “whimsical and quirky and humorous and funny, but it really packs emotional punch and gets inside these women in such a profound way and that was, like, the moment of Sara. Because Sara does that. She can write songs that go in your gut and rip your heart out and yet she also is so clever as a lyricist and has this salty sense of humour – you know, very grounded and down-to-earth. She got it. That was the hardest thing about the show: ‘How do we get the tone right?’ And that had to be set by the composer, and she nailed it.”

Bareilles signed on to “Waitress” by happy accident. About the time Paulus was writing her wish list for artistic partners to translate Shelly’s film to the stage, Bareilles was putting out feelers for a small role, maybe even in a Broadway musical like the ones she loved as a kid, a dream she had put off in pursuit of her Grammy-nominated recording career. Instead she met with Paulus, who encouraged her to watch the movie and consider coming aboard as a kind of  experiment.

Shelly’s story won her over. “I really responded to the complicated, messy world that Adrienne created. I loved the character of Jenna. I thought she was soulful and sad and kind. She was all of these wonderful things – I’m now quoting my lyrics. She’s all of this baked in a pie.”

Her aim as a composer is to mine our similarities, whether she’s writing pop standards or numbers for a lovesick tax accountant named Ogie, a weird little fella who falls hard for Dawn (Lenne Klingaman).

“I always think of myself as being someone who is really interested in the emotional architecture of people. That’s the most interesting part about being alive to me. When you pull back the curtain, I really think that we’re all so much more alike than we are different. I’ve had conversations with people who have said, ‘That’s my sister, that’s my mother, that’s my father.’ The spectrum is wide in terms of humanity, but really, the cast of characters is kind of small when you break it down.”

The week before the Cleveland premiere, Paulus presides over a tech rehearsal in the Connor Palace.

After seeing something spicy and shocking going on in the diner’s kitchen, Desi Oakley, who is headlining the tour as Jenna, must upend a tray, spilling its contents everywhere. (No spoilers here, but one of the many joys of the work is that it isn’t afraid of female sexuality.) Oakley struggles to get the tray to topple just so. “I need help!” she shouts, with feigned desperation, and Paulus asks the composer to offer Oakley a few pointers. Bareilles bounds onto the stage, and begins pantomiming clumsiness, laughing with Oakley, on her knees cleaning up the clutter, and Charity Angel Dawson, who plays Becky, looking on from the pickup window.

The singer-songwriter knows the ins and outs of the scene because she starred as Jenna on Broadway for a 10-week stint beginning in March of this year, after Jessie Mueller, the Tony Award winner who channeled Carole King in Beautiful, left the show. Bareilles’ final eight performances in June raked in nearly $1.4 million, the highest one-week gross of the musical’s run.