A few weeks ago I took a trip to New York City and while I was there I got the opportunity to interview Nicolette Robinson, the new leading lady in the Tony-nominated musical, Waitress. Nicolette made history by being the first woman of color and first off-stage mother to take on the role of Jenna when she made her Broadway debut on September 2nd. Prior to her Broadway debut, she appeared on the New York stage in Off-Broadway’s Invisible Thread and Brooklynite. When I spoke with her, we discussed her time at Waitress and her experience being the first woman of color and real-life mother, here’s what she had to say…
What drew you towards this opportunity to join Waitress?
“I’ve been a fan of the show since it opened on Broadway, I had treated and went by myself to the theatre and fell in love with the show. I’ve been a fan of Sara Bareilles since she came out on the scene, I’ve loved her music for years and years, so already being a Sara Bareilles and musical theater fan, when I got to go see the show I fell in love with it and instantly became a big fan. They asked me to make a tape of the audition scenes and song, while I still living in LA at the time, and sent it into the creative team and they flew me to New York to meet with everybody, and after I worked with them all and auditioned for them they asked me to do the role. I’ve loved the show for so long but I had never really imagined that Jenna would be a role that I would be able to play. I’ve always loved it as a fan, so when they asked me to make a tape I jumped at the opportunity because I just love the show and Jenna so much.”
Have you experienced any new perspectives being part of the first all-women production team on Broadway?
“Oh it’s so cool! I mean the team of women running the show are so inspiring, I respect them all so much and I’ve been a fan of all of their work for so long. Joining this team of women, it’s empowering and it feels really special to be a part of something so important. I think it’s so important to see representation all around in theater, whether it’s diversity or more female empowerment, I’m honored to be a part of this project with this spectacular group of women.”
Being the first woman of color to play Jenna, do you believe this has impacted the role or show in any way particular?
“Yeah, I mean this decision that the creative team made, to open the role of Jenna up for me to be able to play it just opens a window for so many people. I think the role of Jenna, this story is so universal and so many people relate to it in so many different ways, it’s such a meaningful story so when it’s told through my eyes I bring a different experience to it than what other women have would bring to it. I think it’s a special story that can be told in so many different ways, and the team is showing that it can be done with so many different, and that it should be done more often with more people like this so I hope that when people come to see it that they are able to see a different perspective and I think the fact that I’m able to be a woman of color playing this role, I think it will hopefully empower other people to push their dreams forward and realize that their dreams can go even further than they might have imagined, because this is definitely further than I had imagined for myself.”
This show deals with your character, Jenna, being stuck in an abusive relationship — while domestic violence occurs across all races, statistics seem to say that women of color in US may have greater barriers and challenges to accessing help, such as economic or living more isolated lives — has this at all impacted your interpretation of Jenna or the audience’s perspective of it?
“For me, it’s brought more awareness to how common it is still. I’ve been blessed to not have experienced that first hand in many of my own relationships, but it’s connected me with a lot of people who have come to see the show or who have written to me in letters or on Instagram. It’s definitely opened my eyes to the fact that it is still very common and it’s an important issue to bring forward and it’s heartbreaking, but I hope that the way that this story is told that it can help to empower someone to find their inner strength and make decisions for themselves and feel like they’re not trapped in a certain situation, or to reach help when they need it. For me, it’s more so than demographic, it’s opened my eyes that it still happens to so many women. As an artist, anytime you can tell someone’s story and touch on issues that are still fully existing in our society and people are struggling with it, it’s important to tell the story as honestly and with as much care as you possibly can.”
Also, I understand you are a real-life mom… the first of the Broadway Jennas, congratulations! Is there anything in your personal experience with motherhood that you have you brought into the role or the show?
“Motherhood for me has been the most significant transformation and change that I’ve ever gone through in my whole life, so for me there are so many aspects for me emotionally and physically that I didn’t really understand until I actually became a mom or when I was pregnant carrying my daughter. So, physically when I’m pregnant throughout the show, I flash back to how it felt carying my daughter when I was pregnant with her and how it feels to physically carry a human being in your body and that definitely affects my physical life on the stage, but also emotionally. Being a mom has opened me up to a love that I didn’t even know was possible, so to understand how deeply that love can go has definitely affected my emotional life on the stage for sure. I definitely try to bring my own experiences into my performance.”
Has your daughter been to the show or have you sung any songs from the show to her?
“Whenever I rock her to sleep at night I sing to her A Soft Place To Land from the show. I’ve been singing it to her since she was born, and I’ve been singing the music from Waitress since before she was even born, I sang it all throughout my pregnancy and then once she was born I sang around the house all the time, rocked her to sleep with the songs, so she definitely knows the Waitress music. She came to see some of the show, my husband brought her to a matinee, she’s 17 months so she’s really young and her attention span is very quick, but she sat through probably the first 20 minutes of the show, and I think we’ll bring her back again to come and see a little bit more because she loves to come and visit and she loves it there in the theatre.”
Just like Nicolette, I too have been a huge lover of Waitress since it first opened on Broadway, and prior to seeing her performance I have had the chance to see other actresses play the role of Jenna, but Nicolette redefined the character in her own unique way, clearly shaped by her personal experiences. On stage, Nicolette was effortlessly vulnerable and strong all at once, and when I looked around the theatre during her rendition of She Use To Be Mine, there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience. There are times in theater when someone really moves you, and Nicolette definitely did that: chills, tears, everything. Exiting the theatre, everyone’s eyes still glassy from crying so much, I heard nothing but praise from the fellow-theater-goers around me. If you have the chance, go catch Nicolette in Waitress the Musical before she clocks out on November 18th.