Waitress is embracing diversity and representation – and the diner looks a lot different than it once did. In its final weeks at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, five of the show’s leading roles are being played by Black actors: Ciara Renée as Jenna, Joshua Henry as Dr. Pomatter, Maiesha McQueen as Becky, Ashley Blanchet as Dawn and Tyrone Davis, Jr. as Ogie.

And while Waitress has always been comprised of a diverse cast, none of the leads were originated by Black performers when the musical opened on Broadway in 2016.

Joshua said: “It feels amazing. We took a picture of all the Black and brown folk in Ciara’s room right after I joined, and it was a big moment. To share the stage with that many Black folks, it just feels incredible. To be honest, it’s kind of surreal. Once we took that picture, you’re like, ‘Wow, this is closer to the thing that we’ve been working on on Broadway.’ Representation is such a powerful thing.

“I’ve had people come to me, whether it be in my DMs on social media or at the stage door, and just be like, ‘Thank you for opening up these doors, thank you for showing us that it’s possible to play these other characters.’ That’s really what it’s about for me.”

Ciara added: “I’m playing a real person, and there is a different sort of skill set required to do that as opposed to playing the magical, mystical minority that I’ve done many times.”

Ashley, who plays Dawn, says it’s been “really special” – and “rare” – to play a fully formed character with hopes and dreams and flaws.

“When do you ever get a chance to stand on stage with two other powerful Black women and sing a song not about riffing down or getting on stage and blasting out an amazing, Black girl song and then leaving the stage and not being part of the story?

“So much of my life as a Black woman has been being asked to do that. You’re asked to come on stage and sing really hard, do some tricks, but not really be a full human. I get to be a part of the main idea of the story. I can’t tell you how rare it is for me, a Black woman, to be able to stand next to two other Black women and to be singing a prayer – to be singing softly about having the courage to dream. It really hit me hard.”

Maiesha added: “It feels like home to me. It is comforting to me because quite frankly, I spent a lot of time in this profession being a minority, being in a cast where I’m the only one or two. It makes me happy.”

Still, she says, “You always want to feel like you got the job because you are the best person to do it.”

Talking about the recent shift on Broadway – following a demand for change and equality during the pandemic shutdown – she adds that “it’s tricky because you don’t want to feel like diversity is being used as a gimmick.”

Sara Bareilles, the composer of the show, who opened the recent re-staging of Waitress, said: “It is deeply meaningful to me and our whole Waitress family that our show works to embrace and embody the ideals of representation on and off stage, and this cast is spectacular.

“This is a particularly special chapter in the life of Waitress, because we got the great gift of being one of the first shows to re-open after Broadway’s shutdown, welcoming audiences back into theatres that had been sitting dark for over a year, and now we get to share in the joy of our audience members embracing the talents of these truly singular artists and their knockout performances. We are a work in progress, and I hope we can be a show that continues to embrace and reflect our theatre community authentically and whole-heartedly.”

Tyrone added it’s been “wildly emotional” to be a part of the changes happening in the theatre community. “For our producers and for the creative team to actually take that to task and be willing and excited about putting all types of people into the show is just so exciting. It sort of feels like a new Broadway.”