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Former Atlanta teacher Maiesha McQueen plays key role in tour of ‘Waitress’

The musical plays the Fox Theatre through Feb. 10

To a certain set of students at KIPP Strive Academy, a charter school in Atlanta, Maiesha McQueen will always be known as their former teacher.

But for thousands of theater fans around the country, McQueen is being seen as Becky, the best friend of the protagonist in “Waitress,” the Broadway hit based on the 2007 movie of the same name.

The show, which launched a national tour in 2017, will hit the Fox Theatre through Sunday for its debut visit, and for McQueen, it will be a sweet homecoming.

“My mom will probably be there every night,” she joked last week from a tour stop in Houston. “I moved to Atlanta when I was 8, and I grew up seeing shows at the Fox and when I was a teacher, I would take field trips there. I can’t even explain (the feeling). It’s surreal, almost.”

(Atlanta will also be represented by Harper Allegra, 6, and Riley Fuller, 5, who will share the role of Lulu during the Fox run.)

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Atlanta's Harper Allegra, 6 and Riley Fuller, 5, will play the role of Lulu in "Waitress" at the Fox Theatre Feb. 5-10.

McQueen, an alum of Tri-Cities High School in East Point, graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2002 and moved back to Atlanta in 2005. She started to teach theater at the KIPP Strive Academy in 2014 and credits founding principal Ed Chang with supporting her desire to teach as well as pursue performing.

“Teaching, it wasn’t a Plan B for me. It was an integral part of my development as an artist and a professional,” McQueen said.

While teaching, she performed in regional theater at Kenny Leon’s True Colors (“Black Nativity,” “Chasin’ Dem Blues”) and in Portland, Ore. (“Ain’t Misbehavin’”).

McQueen originated the role of Nurse Norma on the “Waitress” tour in 2017 and played the role for about a year. After taking a brief leave of absence to perform in “The Color Purple” in Portland, she was offered the role of Becky in “Waitress,” for which she had previously understudied.

The genial McQueen took some time last week to talk about her current role in the sweet musical, which boasts tender music and lyrics by pop singer Sara Bareilles and a book by Jessie Nelson (“Corrina, Corrina,” “I Am Sam”).

Maiesha McQueen lived in Atlanta since childhood and taught at the KIPP Strive Charter School until leaving teaching for performing. She stars as Becky in the national tour of "Waitress," playing the Fox Theatre Feb. 5-10, 2019.

Q: So you’ve made a move recently, from Nurse Norma to Becky.

A: Playing Nurse Norma was such a treat. She was a special lady, but the woman playing her now (Rheaume Crenshaw) does a fantastic job. It’s nice to see her in good hands.

Q: What do you enjoy about playing Becky?

A: She’s Jenna’s best friend. She has the second to last bow and is with Jenna through her entire journey, and that’s an honor. It’s a great role because Jessie Nelson, who wrote the book, did a great job presenting this woman who is sassy, but has such a big heart. She and Jenna really form a beautiful friendship that is based off of coming from hard truths. That sisterhood, the idea that the only way we can be sisters is if we’re 100 percent honest. Becky is the one who forces Jenna to be really honest with herself.

Q: How do you see the character?

A: You’re careful not to make her a stereotype. You have to give her a lot of heart and love. Theater is built on stereotypes, and unfortunately for people of color, it can be used to complicate who we are. I can’t control what anyone in the audience thinks or feels, but I can control the level of depth and sincerity that I bring. There are people who, no matter who you present Becky as, will see her as a sassy black woman, but that’s not my problem. Like, they might only see Jenna as a victim. But what Jessie and Sara Bareilles do with the book and the lyrics is create a well-rounded story where you can’t help but feel the warmth of the story.

Q: What are you looking forward to when you come home?

A: I just love my city. We’ll be coming right after the Super Bowl. I’m one of those people who was like, anybody but the Saints. We would never able to live that down! I love coming back and seeing how the city has changed and how it’s still changing. I know there was a lot of controversy around the Super Bowl, but Jermaine Dupri made a comment that in Atlanta, we work really hard for our artistry and our culture to be respected. And I agree with that.

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THEATER PREVIEW

“Waitress”

7:30 p.m. today-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. $31-$126. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, foxtheatre.org.

About the Author

Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers music and entertainment news for the AJC. She remembers when MTV was awesome.  

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