“Who wants a dumpling?”
Those are some of the first words you’ll hear at Broadway’s “Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812.” And while the actors’ shouts are planned, the sentiment behind the question is very genuine: Boxed dumplings are thrown to hungry audience members before the show begins.
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In a deep dive by Maura Judkis at the Washington Post, we get a fascinating look at Broadway's food-centric stage gimmicks, which have been delightfully rampant as of late.
“I don’t know if there is a dinner theater movement, but I would say there is a larger movement for performance to be as enveloping and palpable as possible,” commented Rachel Chavkin, director of “The Great Comet." “Food is just an extension of that.”
20 different types of dumplings — technically speaking, “pirozhki,” but referred to by “The Great Comet” cast as “pierogi” — were taste-tested by the show’s team before a potato-and-onion variety from New York City’s Russian Samovar was selected.
Now, every morning, cooks at Russian Samovar begin making 300 dumplings around 10 a.m., and they’re later brought to the theater in warming bags about 30 minutes before the performance takes place.
But, as Judkis points out, that’s not the only show to have an elaborate food shtick woven into its theatrics — and even, in some cases, into its plotline. Take “Waitress,” for instance, the Broadway show with music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles. Not only does the entire thing revolve around a Southern waitress with a penchant for baking beautiful pies, but real pies can be purchased for $10 and nibbled on during the show. And it’s the job of the show’s “pie consultant" (yes, really), Stacy Donnelly, to make the theatre smell like a bakery. There’s even a hidden oven in the lobby where she heats up pies loaded with cinnamon and nutmeg just before each show.
The first words of "Waitress"?
“Sugar, butter, flour.”
Pies and pierogis aren’t exactly finger foods, though, so many careful considerations have to be made. At “The Great Comet,” there’s a special “handle” of dough added to the top of each dumpling to make it easy for audience members to grab it out of the box without making too much of a mess. And as for the concerningly messy ordeal of selling real pie slices during “Waitress,” Donnelly created a jarred pie in four flavors, with a miniature spoon that makes very little noise when jostled around inside the jar. Costumed waitresses sell these in the aisles of the theatre.
And at this season’s performance of Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Street Theatre, you can expect to find food, too. Meat pies, to be specific, are handed out to audience members...a fact that’s sure to delight Sondheim fans. You’ll have to attend a performance — or spoil the surprise with a quick Google search — to find out why that’s such a revoltingly funny addition.
Just as “Waitress” employs a pie consultant, “Sweeney Todd,” too, has its own professional foodie on staff: The pie maker is former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses.
“I feel very much a part of the production,” he said. “But I think my pies feel more a part of the production. They’re almost like a character in the play.”