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NUNN ON ONE THEATER Donterrio Johnson serves it up in 'Waitress'
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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Chicago native Donterrio Johnson is back in town for a whirlwind tour of Waitress.

This talented performer was an artistic ensemble member of Pride Films and Plays and performed in Lookingglass Alice, Next to Normal and Urinetown. He also took on the Daveed Diggs role in Spamilton at Royal George Theatre, to critical acclaim. Currently, he is an ensemble member in the tour version of the hit musical Waitress.

Waitress is the story of Jenna, played by Desi Oakley, who is a restaurant server and pie maker living in a small town. A baking contest could change her life and make a recipe for happiness in her future.

Inspired by Adrienne Shelly's film Waitress, the musical version is brought to life by all female creative team including direction by Tony Award Winner Diane Paulus and music by singer Sarah Bareilles.

Windy City called Johnson on the road before his return home to Chicago.

Windy City Times: Where in the world are you?

Donterrio Johnson: I'm in Fort Worth, Texas. The tour is going great. We have been traveling for eight months and I can't complain.

WCT: How did you get involved with Waitress?

DJ: I just went to an open call in New York and got the job. They had me come back for the final call.

WCT: You always wanted to perform in musicals?

DJ: Yes. It has always been a dream of mine and around me my whole life. Theater is a huge part of my family.

WCT: Is there a musical you would like to do, but haven't yet?

DJ: Pippin.

WCT: You grew up in Chicago?

DJ: Yes, in Blue Island. I went to college in LA at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. After that, I moved back to Chicago. I performed in many independent and midsize theaters there. Before I left I was in Spamilton at the Royal George Theatre.

WCT: I was there the night Wayne Brady showed up.

DJ: That was a fun night. He was there with most of the Chicago cast.

WCT: Were you nervous at all?

DJ: We didn't know he was coming until we started the show. We just had to go for it.

WCT: I imagine that was a challenging show.

DJ: It was 90 minutes of rigorous work. We were flying around that stage. No one had any breaks. It was crazy.

WCT: What is your part in Waitress?

DJ: I am in the ensemble of Waitress. I run around and do a lot of things during the show. I also understudy Joe, one of the main characters in the show.

WCT: I know in New York production pumped pie smells into the lobby. Is that also done on tour?

DJ: In most of the theaters we do that. It depends on the lobby. If it is huge we can't.

WCT: You could just run around with a pie!

Chicago audiences haven't seen it locally. What can you tell them about it?

DJ: It is a small American show. The music is fantastic. Sarah did an incredible job with it.

It is a women empowerment story. I think we need as many of those as we can get. It is a beautiful piece.

The songs are great. I was introduced to the music before I saw the show. I have a soft spot for the all of the music. Any of those songs could be playing on the radio. It is really neat to be in a musical where people just love the music.

WCT: Do you have a favorite song in the show?

DJ: My favorite song is, "A Soft Place to Land."

WCT: You saw Waitress before the tour?

DJ: I saw it about seven times in New York the year before. They just celebrated their 900th show. They have been running for about three years.

WCT: Did you see the original movie and is it similar?

DJ: Yes. It is very similar.

WCT: Are there any special moments for LGBT audiences?

DJ: Yes, there are a few moments throughout the show that you'll see.

WCT: Being an out performer, how do you celebrate Pride on tour?

DJ: I have been traveling through most of the southern states in June. I have been working most of the time, but we have a great community with us on the road. We have been doing little things here and there at the theaters. It has been a smaller Pride month for me.

WCT: Will you take the cast to Sidetrack when you arrive in town?

DJ: We will definitely be at Musical Mondays at Sidetrack and that fun stuff. Everyone is very excited to be in Chicago.

We have not had a three week run in one place in a few months now. It will be nice.

WCT: Is your family coming to see it?

DJ: Yes. We have been doing the show for eight months so it is crazy to finally bring it to Chicago, to do the show in a place that I know and love.

WCT: Did you ever wait tables in Chicago?

DJ: No, I never did. I was one of the lucky few.

WCT: You were in Jesus Christ Superstar. What did you think of the television version that Sara Bareilles was in?

DJ: The TV version was great. These musical shows on television keep getting better every time they do them. Sara is in her prime and doing her thing right now.

I did it at the Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre a few years ago and it was awesome. It was a one of kind experience doing it in such a small space. There were no mics and it was set in a bar. It was very special.

WCT: Did you meet Sarah for Waitress?

DJ: Yes, she was with us the entire time we were in New York. She was very hands on with the show. She was always there. She just came a few weeks to check in on the show and making sure it is going the way it is supposed to.

She is really nice and very down to earth. She will tell you when things are good or bad!

Waitress is running at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., through July 22; visit .

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