Interview: How Caitlin Houlahan Reimagined 'Dawn' for the WAITRESS Movie

Waitress the Musical is now playing in movie theaters through the weekend.

By: Dec. 08, 2023
Interview: How Caitlin Houlahan Reimagined 'Dawn' for the WAITRESS Movie

While filming the live capture of Waitress, Caitlin Houlahan says she was able to play her character of Dawn in "a completely different way."

Returning to Broadway after nearly a two year hiatus, Houlahan says that the company had to completely remount the production to fit a new theatre, along with making it suitable for  a filmed version of the stage musical.

The result can now be seen in movie theaters across the country, as Waitress can now be seen in select cinemas through next Wednesday, December 13.

Joining Houlahan in the film is the musical's songwriter, Sara Bareilles, as well as Eric Anderson, Charity Angél DawsonChristopher FitzgeraldDrew GehlingDakin Matthews and Joe Tippett.

BroadwayWorld sat down Houlahan to discuss how she rediscovered Dawn for the film, what its like to flim two Broadway musicals back-to-back, her relationship with Sara Bareilles, and more.

Waitress is now playing in movie theaters. How are you feeling about it?

Oh my gosh, totally excited and overwhelmed and I can't it's happening.

You've been with this show since 2016. It's such a long journey for you. How do you feel to kind of have like your performance immortalized in this way?

It's so special. I think back to being a kid and being in college and being a musical theater major and watching movie musicals. One that I can specifically like recall is watching Company. Knowing those actors from that musical and knowing that they were immortalized and that was kind of ingrained in me that watching those movies, seeing these people was so exciting. To think that I'm going to be one of those actors who's in a movie musical that lives on forever is just so cool. Not to mention that having this like evidence and this piece of immortality to show like my future children and future generations. It's really cool and not everyone gets to do that. So I feel really, really lucky.

I like that you said like you had Company. I spoke to Sara Bareilles, she said she had Into the Woods. I love the trend of recording musical for a new generation. Since people from all over the country are getting to get to see Waitress, what do you hope they take away from this experience?

I was able to see the film at the Tribeca Film Festival when they premiered it and something that really was so wonderful about the film is it really captures the essence of seeing the musical. There's some kind of magic that they put into it that existed when you saw it in a Broadway theater as well. I think that these people are getting like the closest experience that they can to seeing this on stage with the added benefit of being able to see these up close emotions and these characters in a deeper way that they would have seen from the back row in the mezzanine, which is usually where I see Broadway shows.

Interview: How Caitlin Houlahan Reimagined 'Dawn' for the WAITRESS Movie
Christopher Fitzgerald and Caitlin Houlahan in the Waitress film

In this recording, we are really on stage with you guys. There are close-ups, things we've never gotten to see before. What was the experience like having the camera right in front of you while you're performing this Broadway show?

I mean it made you think of the character in a completely different way. I just felt like I could really go deep with everything that Dawn was feeling internally. As an actor, you could just be a little more subtle about things, rather than trying to project this character to a thousand people. You got to be really intimate and more TV-act what this character was going through. That part was just like really thrilling and challenging in a lot of ways because, like you said, I've been doing it since 2016. When you do the character a certain way for years and years, it's interesting to go back and find the little nuances.

That's so interesting that you were able to rediscover the character in a way.

Completely. Especially because coming back from the pandemic, we switched Broadway theaters. We went from the Brooks Atkinson, now the Lena Horne Theater, to the Barrymore. There were a lot of things that we couldn't do at the Barrymore that we had previously done. We basically remounted the show and were able to kind of just go over things with a fine-tooth comb and go, "Does that work now? We might need to change that." We really had such a gift of being able to go through the whole show again. I really did feel like we were reinventing the characters on some level.

Waitress has had such a unique journey on Broadway. It was here for a long time and then it left and then it came back. This does feel like the final place for this version. How do you feel about all that?

I think if you would have told me at the very beginning when I got this job that I'd still be doing it in 2021 and that it would be premiering at a movie theater in 2023, I would think you were crazy. I just think most shows don't get that kind of life. And a lot of times as an actor, you don't get to sit in roles for a long time. This has become so much a part of my life. I think so much of this role of Dawn is myself. It's very personal to me. The film really did feel like an exclamation point at the end of this journey of being in Waitress. So it's really nice that I get to watch it over and over again.

Interview: How Caitlin Houlahan Reimagined 'Dawn' for the WAITRESS Movie
Charity Angél Dawson, Caitlin Houlahan, and Sara Bareilles

You were in Girl From the North Country, which was also filmed on Broadway. That's such a unique experience to have both of your Broadway shows filmed. What do you kind of enjoy the most about having that experience?

We pretty much filmed them back-to-back. I had come back to Waitress and was in Waitress for four weeks and during that time we filmed it. After those four weeks, I went over to Girl From the North Country. It was overlapping a little bit. While we were filming, I was rehearsing for Girl From the North Country. Then, we filmed that a week before we opened back up. So it felt normal in a way. It was just like "Okay. I did this for Waitress, now I get to do this for this experience." You get to spend so much time with your co-workers in a really beautiful, family way.

I also just love the camera. I love TV. I love that kind of acting where you can be really subtle. It was just such a unique experience to be able to do both. At night time, you get to perform for a crowd, which is unlike anything else. Then during the day, you get to do this beautiful subtle work on the character. It was just a gift and I feel extremely lucky that I got to do it twice in a row.

At the center of Waitress, there is Sara Bareilles. What has your relationship been like with her over all of these years?

Oh my gosh, I can't sing her praises enough. She's like one of the best people I've ever known as a friend, as a coworker, as a fan. She really just embodies who Jenna is. When she first came into the show, I think we were all just in awe of her talent. Not just her singing talent, but she was this incredible actress. It wasn't that we didn't expect it, we just didn't know what to expect. Watching her grow from being really nervous to be on stage to being this absolute star was just like a blessing to watch in front of my own eyes.

I think the most surreal moment was singing "When He Sees Me", a song that she wrote, to her face and seeing her smile back at me. It's a moment that I'll never forget. I'm just so thankful for her. It wouldn't be happening without her. She's amazing.

Interview: How Caitlin Houlahan Reimagined 'Dawn' for the WAITRESS Movie
The cast of Waitress in the new film

With this film, what do you hope the new audience takes away from Waitress?

It's such a story of so many people going through relatable events in their life. I know during the pandemic, domestic violence kind of grew. I hope that when people see this film and they see Jenna's story, that they're inspired. People that need to maybe get out of a bad relationship or a bad house, I hope that they see this and are inspired to do that, to get out, and that it's gonna be okay.

Watch the trailer for Waitress: the Musical here: