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Desi Oakley savors pie making in 'Waitress,' orchestra does Verdi's Requiem

Desi Oakley stars as Jenna in the national tour of the musical Waitress, coming the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts April 24 to 29, 2018. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Desi Oakley stars as Jenna in the national tour of the musical Waitress, coming the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts April 24 to 29, 2018. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Published Apr. 18, 2018

HEAD WAITRESS: DESI OAKLEY

The blue collar mother who drives the plot of Waitress never thought she could win a pie-making contest, let alone start a business.

"She doesn't even have the capacity to understand that she could do this," said Desi Oakley, who plays Jenna in the musical. Jessie Nelson's underdog story has rallied spirits, in part because of Jenna's relatable burdens, a loveless marriage and a dead-end job.

Oakley grew up in Wichita, Kan., without that kind of backstory. Before getting the lead in the national tour, she had never waited tables or even baked a pie, until her mother showed her how. (She does make killer chocolate chip cookie dough, "the best on the planet.")

"My hugest challenge is to separate myself from Jenna," Oakley said. "She breaks my heart every night. Jenna doesn't have the capacity for those dreams. Yet here I am, as a 28-year-old woman who's been working since she was 8 years old to try to be here. So I don't understand that lack of a capacity to have a dream."

Oakley worked extensively with songwriter Sara Bareilles, who wrote the Tony-winning score and the hit song Brave. "She kind of mentored me through it," Oakley said.

How's this for a fun twist: Before the show, freshly baked pies will be sold in the lobby at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. Runs Tuesday through April 29. 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $45 and up. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.

FLORIDA ORCHESTRA: VERDI REQUIIEM

Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem took on a new significance in 1944, when prisoners at the Terezin concentration camp performed it for the International Red Cross. Visitors missed the coded message ("Deliver me, O Lord, from death"), but the piece has lived on as the "Defiant Requiem."

That's why the Florida Orchestra has partnered with the Holocaust Museum for the concert. The event promises a spectacle, with the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay and four soloists and a 90-piece orchestra. The orchestra has not performed this requiem since 2009. 8 p.m. Friday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, 8 p.m. Saturday at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. $14-$45. (727) 892-3338. floridaorchestra.org.

SMASH STAR: MEGAN HILTY

Megan Hilty got her launch playing Glinda the Good Witch in Broadway's Wicked. She earned raves as Doralee Rhodes, the Dolly Parton role in 9 to 5, and a Tony-nominated turn in Noises Off. Other avenues have also borne fruit, including roles in CSI and Desperate Housewives, starring in the musical TV series Smash and the Marilyn Monroe role of Lorelei in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Hilty visits this weekend for the final cabaret show of the Straz Center's season. She'll weave stories about her diverse experiences between favorite songs. She grew up in Bellevue, Wash., and was an opera fan by age 12.

"My first voice teacher was very adamant about training me classically, and through studying classical music I developed a love for opera," Hilty told the Tampa Bay Times. Starts at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Straz Center, Ferguson Hall, Tampa. $35.50 and up. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.

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STILL WALKIN': KINKY BOOTS

A young man inherits his family business in Northampton, England, a capital of shoe manufacturing since the Middle Ages. Things have changed a bit since then, and Charlie Price is struggling to keep the business afloat. But maybe a drag queen's advice could save it. Kinky Boots, based on a true story, won six Tony awards in 2013, including for best musical and best original score. Starts at 8 p.m. Monday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. $35 and up. (727) 791-7400. rutheckerdhall.com.

SINGULAR SENSATION: A CHORUS LINE

A Chorus Line, the story of 17 dancers auditioning for a Broadway musical, opened in 1975 at the Shubert Theatre, where it ran 15 years. The show has remained popular on tour. Starts at 8 p.m. Saturday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. $35 and up. (727) 791-7400. rutheckerdhall.com.

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