Before she was the lead in the show “Waitress,” Christine Dwyer made extra money as, well, a waitress. During her earlier years, the Boston native supplemented her acting income by crooning to customers at New York’s Ellen’s Stardust Diner, famous for its singing waitstaff.
“I made a lot of money, but it is really hard work, and you’re in charge of 30 to 40 people at a time, which is a lot when you’re also having to, in the middle of it, drop everything and sing songs,” Dwyer said. “So yeah, I know waiting tables very well.”
Dwyer’s stage career has been sufficiently blessed that she no longer has to sling food for tips — previous credits include Elphaba in the Broadway and touring versions of “Wicked,” Sylvia in “Finding Neverland” and Maureen in “Rent” — but she brings that real-world knowledge to her portrayal of Jenna in the traveling production of “Waitress,” which heads to Segerstrom Center for the Arts on Nov. 13.
Based on the independent 2007 film of the same name, “Waitress” follows Jenna, a Southern belle working a seemingly dead-end restaurant job who dreams of something better — for herself and her unborn child.
The stage version features a book by Jessie Nelson and music and lyrics by pop-and-stage star Sara Bareilles.
“Sara was actually someone I always looked up to,” Dwyer said of the Grammy-nominated singer of “Love Song.” “For every musical I’ve ever done, I have my Sara Bareilles playlist. Her voice gets me ready to do a show. And now that I’m in a show that she wrote, it’s kind of funny to play [her songs], but I still do.”
As Jenna in “Waitress,” Dwyer will be front and center for Bareilles numbers like “What’s Inside,” “Door Number Three” and “You Matter to Me.” Her favorite in the show is “A Soft Place to Land,” sung by Jenna and two other waitresses.
“It’s kind of a glimpse into what they think about every day while they’re waiting tables in the same restaurants,” Dwyer said. “They dream big even, though their world is pretty small … I think that’s the general message of the show: It’s never too late to change your life and change it for the better.”
In a strange turn of events, Dwyer got to act onstage with her idol this past Easter, when she was in the ensemble for the live television version of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which starred Bareilles as Mary Magdalene and John Legend as Jesus.
Another casting coincidence is that in “Waitress,” Dwyer’s Jenna is married to an abusive man named Earl, played by Dwyer’s fiancé in real life, actor Matt DeAngelis — who performed in the original Broadway cast. Dwyer watched DeAngelis frequently during the production’s Broadway run, which she said helped her tremendously when preparing to play Jenna across from him for the traveling version of the show.
Dwyer, who said she and DeAngelis will spend their off days walking their dog on Southern California’s beaches, says that “Waitress” is far from a “typical” movie musical in that it presents a slice-of-life story without any over-the-top fantastical elements.
“You’ll come out of it in a really great mood and wanting to hug your loved ones,” she said. “It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done, and I love it so much.”
IF YOU GO
Who: “Waitress” the musical
When: Nov. 13 to 25 (except Nov. 19 and 22); performances at 7:30 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays, with matinees Sundays at 1 p.m. and Nov. 17, 23 and 24 at 2 p.m.; Sundays also at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
Cost: Tickets start at $29