Thoughts on Waitress
Updated: Sep 8, 2019
There has been a lot of talk recently of weak ticket sales for Waitress and I wanted to add my thoughts to this. When we visited midweek the Upper Circle was closed which seems to be a common occurrence. The show is a difficult sell right now. There seems to be a limited audience, which may be due to it being second choice to several other new shows. It opened too late for the Olivier Awards so all of the hype has gone to ‘Come From Away’. If people are looking for shows where they recognise the name it’ll be ‘9 to 5’ or ‘Tina’.
It may be a case of choosing a theatre that’s too big. While the upper circle was closed this meant the rest of the theatre was full so still had about 1,000 people in which is not easy. So it depends if the theatre accepts this (adding in strong weekend sales it may just make the 75% occupancy most theatres require) and if it’s enough to make money. Come October though it’ll have another swathe of high profile musicals opening to compete with such as Mary Poppins and Dear Evan Hansen.
I found in interesting that they have such a savvy use of social media. By allowing, even encouraging, photos during the curtain call is clever and certainly ensures it gets some extra advertising, especially since instagram tends to be the social media of choice now. I think it’s the first show to do this but I expect many other shows will pick up on it soon.
Despite this one clever marketing ploy the PR has been a big issue with this show. It seems they relied on the fact it’s been successful on Broadway and assumed it would be successful on the West End. But Sara Bareilles is not famous in the UK. Kat McPhee is not particularly famous here either outside of the musical theatre crowd who watched Smash. And the film wasn’t famous. So they needed to promote it but it feels like they’ve gone out of their way not to get it seen. It had exceptionally long previews to avoid being considered for the Olivier Awards this year, they have done no TV promotion and they didn’t even have tickets available in places like TodayTix until recently, where people would be reminded about the show regularly. Contrast this to Six which has been on morning television, The One Show and recently on Britain’s Got Talent. Waitress needs to do the same to get itself known. As far as most people are aware it’s a story about a waitress, they need to get the music heard and people talking about the plot if they want the audiences to come.
Unfortunately one way they have had people talking is through their recent casting announcements. Firstly, Lucie Jones was unceremoniously brought in a month early to cover for Kat, avoiding any of the publicity they could have had for a first night. Then they announce that Ashley Roberts will take over as Dawn while Laura Baldwin takes a 2 month “break”. While very few people know the real story behind this, given the silence from both the producers and Laura it doesn’t appear that Laura was treated with respect. Which again highlights how bad the PR is. And is bringing someone famous because of Strictly Come Dancing for 2 months really going to save the show?
This is also dis-heartening for Ashley as this should be an exciting time making her West End debut but it’s now marred by controversy. I hope the audience don’t judge her based on the controversy. Personally I’d like to see Lucie and Ashley to see their take on the roles but given it’s unclear how they treated Laura I’m not currently inclined to support the show.
If it does close it’ll avoid slipping into obscurity because of it’s success on Broadway and will likely get a small scale revival in a few years but it’s sad given it could have been a big success. And it will probably be held up as a lesson in how not to promote west end shows.