Book by Jessie Nelson
Music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles
Based upon the motion picture written by Adrienne Shelley
Directed by Diane Paulus
Reviewed by Clive Burton
In the right hands, the simplest ingredients can inspire success and Jessie Nelson constructs a tasty book from the sugar, butter and flour that provide the ingredients for Jenna’s mouth-watering pies in Sara Bareilles’ musicalised Waitress, which opens and closes with their intonation by a small chorus.
Grammy-winning Ms Bareilles wrote both the music and lyrics for this feminist fairy-tale in which three women take control of their lives, helping each other to change for the better - with no small assistance from men it must be admitted.
Ms Nelson employs a broad brush approach to establish the shortcomings of her male protagonists and her strong, but put-upon, female characters drive forward a plot rich in humour, and with ample opportunities taken for well-judged comic set pieces.
Inspired by Adrianne Shelly’s quirky 2007 rom com movie, Waitress narrates the story of Jenna, who earns a crust as a server in the small-town diner where she also makes the crowd-pleasing pies whose quirky names are inspired by everyday events in her life - ginger snap out of it, couch potato pie and car radio to give just a flavour of some of the 27 pies on offer.
Finding herself unexpectedly pregnant, Jenna is looking for a way out of her loveless marriage, and fantasises about a better life for her unborn child by winning a $20,000 cash prize in a neighbourhood baking competition.
As well as being a dreamer (internal sung monologues introduce her most private thoughts in the subtle glow of Ken Billington’s lighting) Katharine McPhee’s Jenna is very much a doer: after all, she does initiate a morally questionable liaison with David Hunter’s Dr Pomatter, a married gynaecologist whom she seduces during an early ‘exploratory’ visit to confirm her pregnancy.
The songs in Waitress are dished up with a side of country-pop by an on-stage band under MD Katharine Woolley and generally tend towards the gently melodic (witness the lovers’ ambiguous ‘Bus Stop’ duet that embraces both their newfound bond and Dr Pomatter’s fondness for Jemma’s irrestible bakery goodies).
Katharine McPhee makes an instantly adorable Jenna, an eternal optimist with a strong Pollyanna streak, who also gets to sing the best song in the show (‘She Used to be Mine’) as she belatedly takes stock of her life in a moment of reflection beneath one of Scott Pask’s spectacular crepuscular skies.
The two other waitresses with whom she plots to find love encourage Jenna to leave her husband (Peter Hannah’s abusive little-boy-lost, Earl), while each is pursuing her own path to happiness: Laura Baldwin’s Dawn more than meets her match in an ardent admirer, Jack McBrayer’s quirky Ogie. Delivering one of the wackiest love lyrics ever penned (‘I Love You Like a Table’) Mr McBrayer earns an ovation for a one-of-a-kind interpretation destined to make him a ‘leg-end’ in his own lifetime. (Don’t ask!)
As the third staff member of the unlikely triumvirate, Marisha Wallace brings flamboyant exuberance to the proceedings as Becky, managing to snare her boss in an unlikely romantic coupling that introduces him to the joys of illicit sex between co-workers.
Whilst the nature of the sexual politics may occasionally muddy the waters for some, Waitress delivers an enjoyable feast of fun on a plate under the direction of Diane Paulus.
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