Waitress the musical smells like pie

Baker Stacy Donnelly creates the pies that are baked every evening before the doors for the musical Waitress open, to replicate the setting of a diner that specialises in fresh pies.
Baker Stacy Donnelly creates the pies that are baked every evening before the doors for the musical Waitress open, to replicate the setting of a diner that specialises in fresh pies.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK • Over the years, Broadway theatres have been home to the play The Smell Of The Kill, and musicals The Sweet Smell Of Success and The Roar Of The Greasepaint - The Smell Of The Crowd.

Now, the Brooks Atkinson Theater is home to the smell of apple pie.

In an unusual step, the producers of the new musical Waitress, which opened on Sunday last week, have been trying to perfume the theatre with the scent of baking, adding an olfactory extension to the show's set, which replicates a small-town diner specialising in fresh pies.

The show's title character, played by Jessie Mueller, dreams of using her pie-making talents to finance an escape from her abusive marriage. The score, by American singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, features an oft-sung refrain of ingredients ("sugar, butter, flour"). And the book, by Jessie Nelson, includes the frequent concoction of creatively named pies.

Mr Barry Weissler, one of the show's lead producers, said: "I wanted that aroma and I wanted it desperately. It's a wonderful intense surround for the show."

The practice of scenting a space, although not uncommon in retail and hospitality industries, is unusual in theatre.

Mr Weissler, best known as the lead producer of Chicago, said he could not think of a precedent. He said he had experimented with artificial sprays, but that they "smelled like the things you dangle in a car", and had tried installing a working oven in the fake kitchen onstage, but there were logistical and safety concerns.

"It just failed, one attempt after another," he said.

Finally, the production hit upon a solution: Installing a convection oven in an entry passageway just outside the doors to the theatre's orchestra seating. Before each performance, the show's "pie consultant", Ms Stacy Donnelly, delivers an uncooked double-crust apple pie.

Twenty minutes before the doors open, a theatre staffer puts it in the oven, allowing it to cook slowly through the show. The odour wafts into the back of the orchestra whenever the doors are ajar, particularly just before the first act and during intermission; its intensity varies based on the air flow.

Ms Donnelly, a Manhattan baker often called upon to make cakes for opening-night parties, has been working on Waitress for months. She has created pies for photo shoots and promotional events and for the set, made pies-in-jars for sale at the theatre and tutored Mueller in dough-kneading and one- handed egg-cracking.

But finding the right pie to scent the theatre turned out to be tricky.

Ultimately, Ms Donnelly wound up cutting out lemon juice, a standard ingredient, which she deduced was sealing in apple juices that she needed to leak out, and spiking the pies with high doses of cinnamon and nutmeg, which are especially fragrant. The pies, made with Granny Smith apples, are cooked at 160 to 180 deg C so they can continue to bake for about 90 minutes without burning.

"It's not meant to be consumed," she said. "But the poor crew wants to eat it every time. They say, 'It doesn't taste right, but we can't stop.'"


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'Waitress the musical smells like pie'. Subscribe