Stephanie Torns, who is leading the cast of Waitress as Jenna Hunterson after understudying the role in the pre-Broadway run at the American Repertory Theatre, as well as on Broadway, talks about taking the lead role for its 2022 limited engagements.

You have had quite the journey with Waitress. Can you tell me a little bit about that journey?

A very long but lovely one! I started with the show out of town at ART in 2015, and then we were very lucky, we right away, the next year, went straight to Broadway, which is amazing. So, I never left! I stayed with the show, I watched every person come in and out that diner door. And then was very lucky to have been a part of the closing company back in January of 2020, and had this beautiful moment. Then, of course, this pandemic hit, and Broadway shut down, and when Broadway announced that it was coming back in 2021 in the fall, I was so excited for all of my friends, but in my brain I did not think I’d be apart of that reopening because we closed. And so, when we were one of the first Broadway musicals to come back, I was just ecstatic and very grateful and had a lovely experience once again. And then that closed, and I thought it was over yet again, and here we are again!

Here we are! How do you feel now having the opportunity to lead the cast as Jenna in this tour?

I’m so excited. There are many times in the past that I hoped it would happen, and I do believe that everything happens for a reason, and for whatever reason I’m supposed to be doing it now, where I’m at in life and who I’ve become, and I love it. The group is so special. I love showing up, I love leading. It starts from the top down, with our show. It’s about kindness and love, and I think when you can lead in that way it trickles down and it becomes a special experience for everybody. So I’m very grateful right now to be able to be the one leading that way.

What were rehearsals like?

Throughout this whole time I’ve been able to, from the ground up, see this show build, and I’ve been in the rehearsal room numerous times watching it grow, but I’ve never been Jenna in this rehearsal process like that. And so, to be that, it feels like a whole new show for me because I’m really getting the opportunity to find new things. As an understudy you’re thrown on and you kind of just have to go with the flow of things, right? And know your numbers, and know your lines, and you don’t get the opportunity to really sit with the material like this. And also, we have a lot of new people, which is so exciting! It’s been nice to watch new people learn the show that I know and love so dearly. It’s been really great, they’re letting us all find our versions of these characters and this show, which is really special. It’s been really awesome, the rehearsals were a nice reminder to us all about what this beautiful show is about, and the legacy that is Adrienne Shelly and her beautiful vision that we get to continue on for her.

What would you say that you have learned from the character of Jenna?

I love this role so much because I feel she is an empath. She doesn’t take a moment for herself often, and she wants to make sure that everyone else around her feels good. I think the biggest thing that I love about the role is she has such a big heart. And even when life is tough, and she is going through a lot of mixed emotions inside, she doesn’t crumble. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from the role is that she really is the queen of kindness and goodness, which is a line in the show that’s said to her, and it’s true. And I think the role is about being an empath and caring so deeply about other people that you kind of lose yourself along the way.

Do you have a favourite song in the show?

Ugh, that’s such a hard question! It’s a hard question because obviously Sara writes amazing music. My favourite song to sing is A Soft Place to Land, which is with the other two waitresses. But my favourite song in the whole show is I Didn’t Plan It, which the role of Becky sings to Jenna. So I get to stand there and watch my friend sing this amazing song at me.

It’s an amazing moment.

Yeah, and it’s such a powerful song, and every lovely person who has stepped into that role of Becky, I’ve been very honoured to watch them sing it.

Have you had any favorite fan encounters in your time with the show?

So many! I am very lucky. I’ve received some of the most beautiful gifts from our fans. I’ve been asked to write my handwriting so they can get a tattoo of my handwriting with lyrics from the show. At first I was very hesitant, and every time they’d ask me in a letter they’re like, “Can you write this lyric from the show?” I’d always write, “Please ask your parentals, or whoever you need to, before getting this done!” I actually ran into a few of them recently who showed me my handwriting on their body, which is crazy.

I’ve received so many beautiful books that were made from tweets from other people that have come to the show, and they put it all in a book of all these beautiful words of affirmation about when I’ve gone on. So, I have, like, three books that are just beautiful. It’s unreal to me what the people have created for me throughout this time. Someone drew a character sketch of me as Jenna, and it’s a poster size on a guest check, and it’s just gorgeous and it’s framed, and at my parents’ house because I was like, “I don’t want to lose this or break this!” So, yeah, the list could go on, for sure.

What would you like to say to people who are going to come and see the show?

I’m excited because we get to do it in an intimate space in Charlotte. It’s less seats than a Broadway house, which is amazing because I think our show is a play with music – with fabulous music. But I would love for them to come and for two and a half hours escape whatever stuff is going on in their lives, and enjoy our beautiful show. And also, I hope they find someone they relate to. The beautiful thing about our show is it’s real people, it’s not in ‘make believe land’, and people can relate, or know someone, or see themselves in these people, and really be moved by the story that is Waitress.