Waitress Film Star Eddie Jemison Meets Ogie Again, This Time on Broadway

Jemison begins performances tonight at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.

Eddie Jemison was reticent to see the stage musical version of Waitress, and it's easy to understand why. In 2007, Jemison originated the role of Ogie in Adrienne Shelly's film on which the show is based, and he has fond memories of working with the late writer and director on a role that was very close to his heart.

But he managed to stay away from the show only for a little while. After catching the touring company in Los Angeles, Jemison has made a leap he never expected: He's returning to the role of Ogie, more than a decade later, and joining the Broadway company tonight. Along the way, he's reliving fond memories of his past, while looking ahead to a chapter in his career that he never expected.

Eddie Jemison has joined the Broadway cast of Waitress.
Eddie Jemison has joined the Broadway cast of Waitress.
(© David Gordon)

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Why were you hesitant to see the Waitress musical?
I was scared of being outshined, and it was confirmed. But I was kind of delighted at the same time. Jeremy Morse [who plays Ogie on tour] was amazing, and then I saw Chris [Fitzgerald], and it's the same thing. I didn't want that to happen. But I was amazingly, overwhelmingly delighted, too. So I'll live with it.

When they offered you the role, what made you say yes?
It was a challenge. My daughter and my wife and my son are all singers and in musical theater, and I've never done any such thing. I've been in garage bands all my life, so I do sing a little — but the rock-and-rolly kind of singing, not this. My kids said, "Dad, you've got to do this," and I'm so glad I'm here. When I stepped onstage, I remembered that feeling. It's been a while, but it's no different, whether it's in college or in Chicago, where I did theater, or Broadway. It's still a theater, with those red seats and that warm feeling.

Did Ogie come flooding right back to you?
The acting part came back immediately. The dialogue is similar, and the character is so true to the film, and the feel of the show is the same. What Adrienne Shelly did, how she imagined it. It's such a small, weird world. You don't know exactly where it's set, so it has this kind of enchanted, magical quality. It's almost like a fable.

And the show retains that quality.
Very much so. I think of Adrienne probably every day. She made a really big mark on me. She pulled things out of me that I didn't think I was able to do. I had to cry a lot. It's hard to do that on cue, and she demanded it. But she had a way of demanding something that made you believe that you can do it, so I did. I just kind of loved her.

What are you most looking forward to about this experience?
Working with Lenne Klingaman, who plays Dawn. She's so good. That's the missing piece in rehearsal: her. The relationships in this show are so complicated. Jenna and Earl's is so fraught. Dawn and Ogie's is the one uncomplicated relationship in the play. It's pure love. Only an idiot like Ogie could love so much, and he has to be that big to bring Dawn out of her shyness. So I just can't wait to fall in love.

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Closed: January 5, 2020