Note: “Life in the City” is an ongoing column in which freelance writer Ta’Leah Van Sistine writes about her semester in New York City through the National Student Exchange.
“What’s inside? Everyone wants to know what’s inside.”
These lyrics from one of my favorite “Waitress” songs were replaying in my head as I looked ahead of me at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, hoping I would soon find out what was inside.
The line outside of the theatre was long — long enough that even though my roommate, Danielle, and I had arrived almost two and a half hours before the box office opened, we were still worried we wouldn’t get tickets to see “Waitress.”
Our motivation for catching a bus at 6:52 a.m. (5:52 a.m. CST), taking the subway and walking to Broadway on the morning of Oct. 9 was rush tickets. These are cheaper tickets to Broadway shows that are purchased in person on the day of the performance you want to see.
“Waitress” is a musical that follows a waitress named Jenna Hunterson, who is an expert pie-maker who dreams of leaving her small town and cruel husband behind when she discovers she’s pregnant.
Sara Bareilles, famous for her songs “Love Song” and “Brave,” wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway show, and only from Sept. 2 to Oct. 17, Bareilles starred as Jenna once again. Danielle and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see her, but we were 59th and 60th in line.
I grew up listening to Bareilles’ music — I distinctly remember my second-grade class jumping around and dancing to “Love Song” when it was first released — and I love the “Waitress” soundtrack. Seeing Bareilles while I’m living in New York, I knew, would be incredibly special.
A person in front of us in line explained that usually 20-30 rush tickets were distributed for each performance. There were two performances on the Saturday Danielle and I were there, so if exactly 30 tickets were given for each show, we would just make it.
Two individuals behind us in line were facetiming someone, and they told them, “We’ll get you a playbill,” referring to the theater program you receive when you see a show.
They seemed confident that they would get tickets and since they were behind us, I thought maybe we would have a shot.
As soon as it was 10 a.m., the line started moving forward.
There was a certain excitement in the air — partly because with every step forward, we were closer to possibly getting tickets — but also because Broadway only recently reopened.
Starting March 12, 2020, Broadway was shut down due to COVID-19 and the opening night for “Waitress” wasn’t until Sept. 2, 2021.
People were eager to see theatre again — to watch stories transpire on stages — and this was clearly the case at the Barrymore Theatre on Oct. 9. The line went even beyond Danielle and I with a total headcount likely over 100.
Around 10:30 a.m., we finally stepped inside the box office and were able to purchase tickets. It took us hours to process that we’d actually be seeing “Waitress” that night.
Danielle and I spent the rest of the day roaming around Manhattan, and at 7:30 p.m., we were back where we started that morning.
The show went by too quickly, but I enjoyed every second of it. Bareilles was incredible in the lead role, singing about love, dreams and perseverance. A large crowd of us even stayed after the show to watch and wave to the cast as they left the theatre.
In the song “What’s Inside,” the character Jenna sings about the three base ingredients in her pies: sugar, butter and flour.
For me, inside the Barrymore Theatre was my very first, and most memorable, Broadway show.
Van Sistine can be reached at [email protected]