Whether it’s crazy high belting, bringing something so unique to every role, or now, replacing (or rather, reinventing), there’s nothing that Betsy Wolfe cannot do. It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of hers—in fact, so much so that I would fly across the country twice in one summer to see her perform—and seeing her in Waitress was everything I imagined it to be, and more. There was just something so utterly magical about Betsy’s take on Jenna that made me see the character differently.
First, the strength that unfolded and revealed itself through Jenna’s voice. The accent that Betsy used added so much to the character, not only serving as an indicator of where Jenna is from but also adding a mix of a timidity and hope to Jenna. With the way that Jenna spoke to others, I saw someone who was a bit wary and carrying the weight of everything that happened to her, yet there was still something in her that never allowed her to give up. That was conveyed through an inflection of willingness in Betsy’s voice as Jenna grew—it was this that allowed her life “open up” in a way that was so different from the “Opening Up” that was sung about in the beginning. That was about going through the daily motions of life and repeating the same things every day, and it was so drastically different from the way that her life opened up throughout the story. And by the time Jenna got to “She Used to Be Mine,” her voice had shifted. The way that Betsy’s voice filled the entire theater during those four minutes was unreal and unlike anything I have ever heard before. Instead of a somewhat cautious Jenna, I saw one that was so different and found power and strength within herself, and she was able to express that through her voice.
Another thing that went hand-in-hand with this theme was how Jenna began to see herself in a completely new light. Through the glimmer and sparkle in Betsy’s eyes as Jenna taught Dr. Pomatter how to make a Lonely Chicago Pie, I saw for the first time how “You Matter to Me” connected to “Soft Place to Land.” During the surrounding scenes of “Soft Place to Land,” after Jenna helped Dawn to prepare for her date, Dawn told her, “…you made me almost pretty,” to which Jenna responded, “Almost pretty? You are beautiful.” This exchange was all about how Jenna helped Dawn finding the beauty within herself that she hadn’t seen before, and all of it came as a flashback before and during “You Matter to Me.” I saw how Jenna had finally stopped to think about herself and what she wants for the very first time—before that, it was all about what she didn’t want (the baby, the husband, the small town). But the stress that Betsy put on the phrase “I haven’t felt in a very long time” was the moment that all of those thoughts hit me. And then the transition from this conversation into “You Matter to Me” put such an emphasis on the fact that the song is not really about the affair, but rather, about how Dr. Pomatter helped Jenna see herself differently for the first time. This was exactly what Jenna needed to find her own courage to carry through on this journey.
And finally, through all of her performances, Betsy has always made me realize that sometimes, it’s the smallest things that really have the biggest impacts, and this held true for her performance as Jenna. There were particular instances where she looked into the audience with one facial expression and it shot chills throughout my entire body because I could feel everything that Jenna was feeling. The little laughs that she inserted throughout just added to the fact that her Jenna had not given up hope—that throughout these dark moments, she could still find little things to make her smile, that she could still be a good friend to others, that just because her life wasn’t the way she wanted it to be, it didn’t mean that others had to live like that. The way she wiped off her tears after “She Used to Be Mine” was so releasing and it felt like she was truly able to wipe away everything that had happened to her in the past and start brand new. All of these small things came together to create a unique take on Jenna that I will forever treasure.
If you have the chance to, please go see Betsy as Jenna in Waitress. Even if you have seen the show before, you will take away something different from the show when you leave. Betsy is a superb and truly one-of-a-kind performer, and the way she fully embraces the role and does not hold back on anything is an incredible experience you will not regret.
Adeline Shin is a junior at Carnegie Mellon University who is studying engineering and drama. She developed a love for theatre, music, and performing at a very young age, and hopes to write her own musical someday. She can be found on Twitter @adebean_.