It’s not every day that you get to return to your home town to see your name in lights. However, as Waitress: The Musical whisks into Atlanta’s Fox Theatre this week, Maiesha McQueen will be able to do exactly that. Maiesha, a Broadway actress, is an Atlanta native currently on her first cross-country tour starring as Becky, lead character Jenna’s BFF. The Broadway hit, Tony Award-nominated, all-female creative team production featuring music by Sara Bareilles stops at the Fox for eight performances beginning tomorrow before heading to five additional Southern cities, and Maiesha will be on stage belting out tunes at each one. Today we’re catching up with Maiesha about her background, what it’s like to tour with a Broadway production, and what it means to come “home” to the Fox. Meet today’s FACE of the South, Maiesha McQueen!
I hear you are an Atlanta native. Welcome back to the South! What does it mean to you to “come home” to the Fox Theatre?
Oh my gosh, it’s surreal. It’s really, really surreal. I’ve never performed there, and it’s just super exciting. I taught for a few years in Atlanta, so not only did I grow up seeing shows there, but I would take my students to field trips there and things like that. So it’s full-circle in a lot of ways.
When did you know you wanted to pursue acting? What was your connection with the art of live performances on stage?
Actually, music was my first love. I started singing kind of young in choruses. I didn’t necessarily take it seriously; it was just something that I liked to do. My father was a singer, but it wasn’t something that I was pushed into, per se. Then I went to the Visual Performing Arts Magnet Program at Tri-Cities High School, which is in East Point. I was a vocal major but was introduced to musical theater around the 10th grade. I loved it! I’d never acted before, so it was a marrying of singing and acting, which was great.
Do you recall your very first acting role? What was it?
We did a lot of creating our own musicals. My mentor, who was my first mentor, was the theater teacher at Tri-Cities, but he also had a theater company outside of it called The Youth Ensemble of Atlanta, also known as YEA. His name is Freddie Hendricks. His theater company outside of school did a lot of storytelling and creating of their own work. So my first experience with musicals was actually non-traditional. We would create our own songs, and our own scripts around subjects like child abuse, apartheid in South Africa and things like that. My first traditional, commercial musical was Godspell when I was in the ninth grade.
Did you connect with those roles more so than the traditional roles?
I wouldn’t say “more so.” I think because of the way I was introduced to musical theater, there was no difference [to me]. It was all storytelling. It just so happened that we wrote some, and somebody else wrote another. I’m really grateful to have that as an introduction to the genre because it allows me to go into every space with the same amount of love, respect and openness.
What was it like to receive the call that you had landed the role as Becky in Waitress? Who did you call first to tell the big news?
When I found out, it was kind of serendipitous. I happened to be at the show because I was in New York for about three weeks, which was how long my audition process took. One of my really good friends — the one who told me about the tour — was still in the Broadway show. My manager just happened to be in New York, so we were all at Waitress. Then, the casting director was at Waitress that night, too. So I was able to be told that I got the role at the Broadway show with my manager, from the casting agent’s own mouth. So that was really, really special.
What would people be surprised about when it comes to touring with a Broadway production? What are the trials and what are the triumphs associated with a touring show?
I mean, constantly traveling can be strenuous on the body, and it can be strenuous on the immune system. You have to really be diligent about your health when you’re constantly moving from one environment to the next, so that can be strenuous. Being away from family and friends, you’re like a nomad, to a certain degree. For me, the benefits outweigh the cons, just like any other situation. You get to see the country. You get to perform in front of thousands and thousands of different people and audiences. You get to see different cities. There’s nothing more exciting than doing a first national tour, because you, in many ways, you’re debuting the show to a lot of people who may not necessarily want to go to New York or have the ability to go to New York.
That actually brings me to my next question. I feel like Broadway has seen a real resurgence in recent history. Of course, I think there’s been some cultural phenomenons, like Hamilton, along with other productions that have made Broadway more accessible. In what ways has Broadway become more accessible for both audiences and actors? In what ways do we still have a little bit or (a long way) to go?
We’ve got a long way to go. Hamilton was great, and there were programs that Lin Manuel [Miranda] specifically created for a diverse audience to be able to see it. And by “diverse,” I don’t just mean racial or culturally, I also mean socioeconomically. But even in New York, even if you are a resident of New York, in many ways Broadway is still a detached sort of thing. I, personally, feel like there’s still a lot of work to do in terms of not only diversifying audiences but also diversifying stories. I think that Hamilton was great. It created a lot of opportunities for artists of color to work, and for people to see a show like that. I think the conversation is just about what kinds of stories we’re telling, and who’s included. So it’s an ongoing conversation. I think a lot of people in my business are talking about it and trying to figure out how to create more open spaces for audiences and different types of work. Hopefully we’re heading in the right direction.
Do you have a playlist that you listen to, or do you do anything to warm up or get you excited before a show?
I listen to music. It changes depending on the mood that I’m in. Sometimes I feel like jazz. Sometimes if it’s a Sunday night and I need to get the energy up because I’m tired from the week, I’ll put on some more upbeat music. For me, going into the work as relaxed as possible is where I want to be, and it shifts and changes from one day to the next.
What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?
I would say a good piece, and I think it’s something that’s good for life, is just to keep trying to be authentically you. I think it’s a really good piece of advice for my business because you always have people telling you what you are and are not right for. Sometimes it can taint your sense of self. It’s really good to just do the work, and dig deeper into who you really are, and who you want to be.
Excluding faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
It’d be tough to live without music, laughter and a great pair of shoes.
Thank you, Maiesha for sharing all things Broadway with us! Break a leg as you continue your journey across the country! See more Waitress tour dates HERE.
Meet more amazing Southern women in our FACES archives. Click HERE!