For a while, the most exciting thing to happen to theater concessions was wine in a sippy cup.
But several shows currently on and off Broadway have upped the ante, with snacks that enhance the experience of the show.
Among the newest to open this season is “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” based on the beloved 1964 Roald Dahl novel set in eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka’s factory. It’s only natural that the new musical serve up some candy, and for its Broadway debut at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, the show — which opens April 23 with two-time Tony Award winner Christian Borle as Wonka — has teamed up with Dylan’s Candy Bar to offer the equivalent of Wonka Bars and Everlasting Gobstoppers. At three concession stands, find a variety of confections, from jelly chocolate bars to giant swirl lollipops to cotton candy tubs, ranging in price from $3.25 to $10.
“Charlie” takes a savory page from “Waitress,” a year-old musical based on the 2007 indie film. The musical brings to life the story of Jenna, an unhappily married waitress and pie maker, with the character cracking eggs and rolling out dough on the stage, as well as freshly made pies warming in a convection oven in the entryway of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
“It’s different than any other show on Broadway,” said Barry Weissler, the producer of “Waitress.” “No other show has a scent, an aroma. It puts you in the mood.”
Concessions staff dressed up as waitresses sell little jarred pies behind the bar, in the aisles and at a cart outside the theater. Weissler worked with Cute As Cake’s Stacey Donnelly to develop the treats, which are made fresh daily and come in flavors like Key lime pie, apple crumb, strawberry, and cookies and cream for $12 a pop.
The show sells about 200 jars a night at the 1,000-seat theater, said Weissler — whose hands-down favorite is the Key lime pie. (A cookbook with recipes based on the Tony Award-nominated musical is also coming out May 23.)
“Nothing’s leftover at the end of the night,” he said. “People are Instagramming them and taking the jars home as mementos. It really turned out into a very, very successful experience.”
Pies are a natural for a show about a pie maker. But what about 19th-century Russia? For Rachel Chavkin, director of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” — a musical inspired by a passage from Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” — the answer is pierogies.
At the start of each show, most of the cast can be found throwing takeout containers each filled with a dumpling out to the audience, like T-shirts at a baseball game.
“We chose the dumpling because it’s something you could eat with your hand, and it felt distinctly Russian,” said Chavkin, who sees theater not just as entertainment, but an act of hosting. And like any good host, you feed your guests.
The vegetarian dumplings are made by Russian Samovar, a restaurant located a few blocks from the Imperial Theatre, and delivered 15 minutes before curtain.
“They are these beautiful pastry potato dumplings, they’re so good,” Chavkin said. “We didn’t want people to worry about spinach in their teeth, that’s how we arrived at the straight-up potato.”
There’s enough pierogies for about every third or fourth seat of the theater — which has been transformed into a Russian salon for the production — making them somewhat of a hot commodity.
“It’s crazy how fast people’s hands shoot up,” said Katrina Yaukey, an ensemble member who hands out pierogies house left in the orchestra level, an accordion strapped to her back. “People seem so disappointed when I throw out my last one.”
Before it opened on Broadway last fall, “The Great Comet” — notably starring Josh Groban in his own Broadway debut — had several incarnations Off-Broadway. And each time, food has played a part. At Ars Nova, it was Costco dumplings with sour cream for dipping and carafes of Tito’s vodka on each table; at a pop-up tent called Kazino in the Meatpacking District, it was full dinner service an hour before each performance.
For Chavkin, the simple pierogi, sans messy sour cream, is an ideal iteration. “My preference is just for the dumplings because it’s elegant, it’s clear, it’s a single gesture,” she said.
For a more substantial meal, theatergoers can head Off-Broadway to Barrow Street Theatre, which has been transformed into a working pie shop for a production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” In an homage to the musical’s London setting, pie and mash service is offered for select seats before each performance. The menu is overseen by Bill Yosses, the former White House pastry chef, with both meat and vegetarian hot pies on offer for $22.50 (including a beverage).
Beyond offering a memorable, unique and buzzy experience, food can further transport theater goers to the world created by the show, whether that’s a chocolate factory, diner, Russian salon or a pie shop. It can also give them a hint of what’s to come. For Chavkin, having cast members hand out the dumplings sends the message to the audience that there is no fourth wall in the production.
“The characters sing their lines really directly to the audience; intimate is the best word I can use to describe it,” the director said. “For us, the dumplings, of course they’re fun, but it’s very deeply tied to the DNA of the entire world that we’re creating.”