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Broadway’s New Big Star: Pie Smell

'Waitress' audience members aren't imagining that aroma

A scene from 'Waitress.'
A scene from 'Waitress.'
Joan Marcus

Years from now, when the Tonys include an award for "Best Scent," the winner will have to give thanks to a 2016 Broadway musical. Waitress, which tells the story of a small-town diner, opened on Sunday, reports the New York Times. In an attempt to fully transport audience members into the show's world, the producers are filling its theater with the smell of fresh-baked pie.

"I wanted that aroma, and I wanted it desperately," Barry Weissler, a lead producer for Waitress, told the Times. "It's a wonderful intense surround for the show." The diner at the center of the show is meant to be known for its pies, and the main character "dreams of using her pie-making talents to finance an escape from her abusive marriage."

How does one fill an entire Broadway theater with the comforting aroma of baked goods? Artificial sprays don't work — Weissler told the Times they "smelled like the things you dangle in a car" — and working ovens on stage could prove to be dangerous. Instead, a "pie consultant" reportedly bakes an actual pie in a convection oven that's located just outside the orchestra seating. The baking begins 20 minutes before doors open, and the delicious scent fills the room throughout the show.

Stacy Donnelly, the so-called pie consultant of Cute as Cake bakery in Manhattan, told the Times her products aren't meant to be consumed because the recipe is adjusted to create maximum aroma. But, the crew eats them anyway. She doesn't mention whether the science that goes into a perfect-tasting pie is the same that creates a pie perfect for smelling. Waitress will embark on a national tour next year, and there's no word yet on whether live baking will be part of the traveling show.

In addition to creating a signature scent for Waitress. Donnelly bakes pies that are used as props on stage. Those recipes have to be adjusted as well, to account for not-so-pie-friendly conditions.

"If [a pie] has whipped cream, whipped cream doesn't hold up very well under hot light," Donnelly told Playbill. "You'll have to make it a consistency that isn't necessarily the consistency you'd use to serve for dessert. With the crust pies, I definitely add way more egg wash so that it's really shiny, and I don't necessarily cook the crust pies as long because they need to be able to hold up and not crack onstage as they're being transported [by the waitresses]."

Waitress is based on the 2007 Adrienne Shelly movie of the same name. Watch the video below to get an idea of what goes into being a pie consultant.