Southern Utah University alumna Broadway-bound, perfect ingredient in ‘Waitress’

Keala Settle and ensemble in "Waitress, A New Musical" by Evgenia Eliseeva, date unspecified | Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva, American Repertory Theatre, St. George News

CEDAR CITY — Serving up a sweet slice of Broadway once again, Southern Utah University alumna and Tony Award nominee Keala Settle stars in the now Broadway-bound musical “Waitress,” a new musical currently playing at the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and everyone wants a slice.

Shauna Mendini, dean of SUU’s College of Performing and Visual Arts, said Settle was most known for her commanding stage presence during her time at SUU.

“You knew from her confidence and her ability to command a stage that she has a special talent and she backed it up with this voice that is expressive and brings emotion but has this volumes that knocks you out,” Mendini said. “She would walk in a room and she would instantly stand out because of her outgoing personality and amazing smile.”

Based on the acclaimed independent film of the same name, “Waitress” was written by Adrienne Shelly and features music and lyrics by five-time Grammy Award nominated singer and songwriter Sara Bareilles, a book by Jessie Nelson and direction by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus, artistic director of American Repertory Theatre.

Based on the hit 2007 indie film of the same name starting Keri Russell, “Waitress” is the story of a young piemaker, Jenna (played by Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller), who is trapped in an unhappy marriage and draws strength from her fellow waitresses, who are soul sisters with quirks and troubles of their own, one of which is Settle, also known as Becky.

The play’s artistic director, Paulus, said to the Boston Globe, “This is a feminist tale about a woman who has lost herself and needs to rediscover her value and build a safe and fulfilling life. The production team is female-centered, as well. I knew in my heart that this was a story that should be told by women. This is a show about sisterhood and friendship and the journey to finding the courage to acknowledge your own self.”

“Waitress” will play through Sept. 27 at the Loeb Drama Center before making its transfer to New York’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre in March 2016. Casting for the Broadway transfer will be announced at a later date.

Settle received a 2013 Tony Award nomination for her performance as Norma Valverde in “Hands on a Hardbody” on Broadway, which also garnered her Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations and a Theatre World Award. Her other Broadway/New York appearances include “Les Misérables” as Madame Thénardier, Priscilla in “Queen of the Desert” and Violet with “Encores.”

Across the country, Settle has appeared in the national tours of “South Pacific” as Bloody Mary and “Hairspray” as Tracy Turnblad. At SUU, she is best remembered for her performances in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance productions of “South Pacific” and “Nunsense.”

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