How Waitress's New Dawn and Ogie Took the YouTube to Broadway
Todrick Hall and Colleen Ballinger forged their own paths until Broadway decided to notice.
Earlier this week, Todrick Hall and Colleen Ballinger became Waitress's newest Dawn and Ogie — a pair of eccentric characters well suited for artists accustomed to carving out their own oddball paths. Hall began his career in dance ensembles from The Color Purple to The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, eventually gaining recognition on American Idol. From there, he built his own YouTube platform, which in turn launched him to leading roles on Broadway in Kinky Boots and Chicago, not to mention his role as resident choreographer on RuPaul's Drag Race.
Ballinger, a lifelong musical-theater devotee who is now making her long-awaited Broadway debut, is also well-versed in the ways of a do-it-yourself career. Before YouTube fame was even remotely a profession, she developed the famously untalented character Miranda Sings, which eventually won her her own Netflix series, Haters Back Off, in 2016.
Neither Hall nor Ballinger have ever fit the mold — a fact that perhaps delayed their Broadway validation. But now that they've arrived where they wanted to be all along, they have an appreciation for their circuitous paths, and are delighted that those paths are crossing at Joe's Pie Diner.
Congratulations to both of you on becoming the newest Dawn and Ogie! And especially to you, Colleen, on your Broadway debut. Are you both coming into the show as Waitress fans already?
Todrick Hall: I saw Waitress when it first opened with Jessie Mueller, and I loved it. But then I started listening to the music. [Sara Bareilles's] music is so witty and the melodies are so catchy. So when I got to sit down and listen to all the lyrics, I just fell in love with the show, and now I've seen it probably over 20 times.
Colleen Ballinger: When it came out, I was really busy because I had just started production on my Netflix series. But my best friend would listen to the album What's Inside on repeat in our apartment in Vancouver where we were shooting. I started listening to it obsessively because it calmed me down. I was so stressed writing and producing and starring in this television show, which I had never done before. It was the one thing that could calm me down at night. And then once I got pregnant, I started listening to the original cast album more obsessively and became emotional all over again for new reasons.
How was this opportunity presented to the two of you?
Colleen: Todrick was actually the one who originally reached out to me and said, "Hey, would you be interested in doing the show Waitress on Broadway?" I thought he was joking around. Then my agent emailed me and said, "Hey, we got this for some play or something." I was like, "This is for Broadway, it's not some play!" I didn't think it was real until I got to my first rehearsal. I grew up loving theater, and I also lived here for years auditioning. I know the process is not easy. So the thought of just getting an email to be asked to be in it was really unbelievable to me after how long and hard I've worked to try to be on Broadway.
Are you excited to potentially introduce new audiences to musical theater?
Colleen: I'm so excited. Theater is what got me through everything that was difficult in life. I would just listen to soundtracks on repeat and cry. In high school I would typically reach for Wicked or Thoroughly Modern Millie or Into the Woods. But if I really needed a good cry, I'd listen to "Being Alive" [from Company]. [Stephen] Sondheim was my main squeeze back in the day. Theater meant so much to me growing up, so I can't wait to introduce so many kids to a world where you can really express yourself.
Todrick: It's awesome that we have been able to create a fan base that's going to come out and watch us. I was in three Broadway musicals before I came back to do Kinky Boots. And for me to be able to step out of the ensemble — where I was very happy, by the way — is really cool, and it's such a full circle moment.
Is Ogie a role you ever saw yourself in?
Todrick: Honestly, I don't see myself in very many roles, which is the reason why I started making my own platform on social media. It was really difficult for me to find a place where I fit in. I couldn't even imagine myself playing Lola in Kinky Boots and definitely not Billy Flynn [in Chicago]. But the reason I really wanted to play this role when the option presented itself is that I love to challenge myself. It wouldn't be a challenge for me at this point to put on heels and a lash, but for me to play a comedic role, I've never really done that before. So this is a really cool opportunity for me to exercise a part of me I do believe exists but I may not have shown to my audiences. And for me to be able to do it with Colleen is just a dream come true because we're such good friends. It's going to be so hard for us to not laugh onstage every day.
When did the two of you meet?
Colleen: We met 10 years ago, actually doing a Miranda show. We were mutual fans of each other and just became friends instantly. We have very similar motivated, work-obsessed personalities. We never sleep and we love what we do.
Todrick: She's done videos on my channel, I've done videos on hers, and we've just become close friends. She's so fun, so down to earth, such a sweet soul. And she's such a talented singer. A lot of people don't know that unless they're super fans of hers. So I'm excited that she's going come out and show people a different side of her.
Does Dawn feel like a good fit for you, Colleen?
Colleen: Well, I definitely relate the most to Jenna in this musical. There's a lot about the journey of pregnancy and going through difficult things in relationships and whatnot. But the quirkiness and awkwardness of Dawn — I really relate to her bizarre humor, so Dawn, I think, is a perfect part for me.
What kind of Dawn-Ogie relationship do you think you're going to give audiences?
Colleen: We already have that base of a good friendship there, so I think there's going to be a lot of playing around. I don't think any two shows will be the same.
Todrick: There's just a fire that I have when we both are onstage at the same time, and I think it's because of the 10 years of history that we have together. We are both such goofballs that we play off each other so well. I'm looking forward to the moments when things go wrong and we're able to recover them together.
Are there any particular lines you're looking forward to taking out of the rehearsal room and saying in front of an audience?
Colleen: I like them all but I will say it's fun for me to say "vagina" onstage. "Do not insert the test stick into your vagina" is probably my favorite line in the show.