Directed by Diane Paulus, book by Jessie Nelson, choreographed by Lorin Latarro and music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles.
It’s 2016, the Tony Awards are in full swing and all eyes are set on the sold out, blockbuster musical Hamilton as it’s at the forefront of the awards ceremony. It ended up sweeping the awards and took out the big one, Best Musical. However, many say that if Hamilton had been nominated a year earlier or later, then the groundbreaking new musical Waitress (with its all female production team) would have swept the awards instead.
It’s now 2019 and Waitress is continuing to get bigger and better, with celebrities lining up to play the shows titular characters, a US tour being announced, the West End recieving its own production and another announced to hit Sydney in the coming years. In the woke world we now inhabit, Waitress may just be the at the forefront of the “MeToo” Generation.
Based on the sleeper hit 2007 film of the same name starring Kerri Russell and written and directed by Adrienne Shelley, Waitress follows the story of Jenna (played on stage by Lucie Jones), on the surface a typical waitress at one of the many diners that litter America’s small towns. But beneath this recognisable cultural American image Jenna finds herself in an abusive relationship, with an unexpected baby on the way, a nack for making exquisite (and comically named) pies and suddenly in a whirlwind affair with the new doctor in town, Dr Pomatter (tonight played by understudy Piers Bate).
What sets Waitress apart from other run of the mill movie musicals that Broadway and the West End are churning out, is that it made Broadway history by being the first all-female production team to be nominated for the Tony award for Best Musical. The team consisted of writer Jessie Nelson, director Diane Paulus, choreographer Lorin Latarro and the woman who gives Waitress its heart and soul, singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles (herself playing the role of Jenna for a limited run on Broadway).
Bareilles music really makes the show what it is. The score at times doesn’t sound like your typical musical theatre show. The songs the characters sing could have easily been pulled off the radio. I found this helped to shape the actors believable, living, breathing characters. This plus Paulus’ direction helps to push Waitress out of the movie musical category and transforms it so it stands on its own two feet. Jenna’s ballad Used to be Mine was clearly the show’s song and the crowd responded to it accordingly.
Nelson’s book stands as a feminist manifesto, the shows lead, Jenna, being a symbol for any woman that has ever found herself in an abusive relationship, an unhealthy relationship or simply wanting to break free from a dead end job and realise her full potential. Essentially, it’s about women breaking free. Something that all too much mirrors the era we live in today, which is probably where Waitress get’s its popularity.
Dare I say this but, as a man, I never felt the show fully resonated with me in the way it clearly did to all the women around me. I could of course appreciate the sentiment that was being projected but this is a show for the little girl in all the women in the audience who needed a reminder of the strength of women. Perhaps, it also too serves as a message for men to listen.
Latarro’s choreography is experimental when it comes to musical theatre. It is reminscent of a very physical theatre style of performance. Particular in Jenna’s “Sugar, Butter, Flower” monologues of pie creations. I wouldn’t say there was so much “dance numbers” as there were “movement pieces” in the show. Strangely enough, it all worked within the compact space of the diner where the majority of the show is set.
Scott Pask’s set design had the Waitress Band lead by Nadia DiGiallonardo situated just stage left of the set in clear view of the audience and allowed them to fill up space in the diner, allowing the space to seem more full and provide playful interactions in some of the shows more exuberant scenes.
Nelson’s book stands as a feminist manifesto…essentially, it’s about women breaking free
As the lead waitress Jenna, Lucie Jones plays her earnestly as a woman who clearly is struggling to overcome her desires to both break free from her abusive husband Earl (Tamlyn Henderson) and keep herself and her new soon-to-be baby safe. I found at times I struggled to connect with Jones’ portrayal of Jenna and at times I was put off by her technique of filling the end of her lines with mimed talking. Perhaps it was how close I was sitting to the stage but I found it distracting to say the least. Nonetheless, her vocal ability in Jenna’s powerhouse songs hit like a punch to the gut and brought tears to the women sitting around me.
As the sassy waitress Becky, Marisha Wallace impressed with her vocal belts and scats and was an effective source of humour and comfort for both Jenna and the audience, delivering some of the shows most hilarious moments.
To finish the trio was the ever so quirky and adorkable Laura Baldwin as waitress Dawn. Her facial expressions and squeaky southern drawl of an accent added extra heart and affection to the show. Baldwin had a captivating voice that sadly she didn’t get the opportunity to showcase more. Her relationship with her even quirkier flame Ogie (played by Youtuber Joe Sugg) was at the heart of the shows humour. Sugg is the latest in many British celebrities to cycle through the role of Ogie and managed to pull of the extreme physical humour of Ogie but sadly at the same time couldn’t manage to hit some of the notes required in the part.
Rounding out the cast was Piers Bate as Dr. Pomatter, who managed to play the doctor’s many different qualities with humour and honest and matched well with Jones’ character.
Tamlyn Henderson played abusive husband Earl, always a hard character to like or have the audience respond well to, but in this role the aim is to get the audience to have this reaction and he hit it on the head.
Andrew Boyer as diner owner Joe slowly won the audience’s hearts as the bitter old man with a soft heart at his centre, his song “Take it from an old man” a soft gem in the second half.
Stephen Leask as kitchen boss Cal bounced off Wallace’s Becky with ease and helped to provide humour in what could have been an otherwise stoic character.
So would I go to see Waitress again? I’d cautiously say no, purely based on the fact that there was something that didn’t resonate in me, but I did see clearly resonate in the near sold out auditorium around me. This however doesn’t detract from the show’s merits. An enjoyable feminist musical with a gorgeous score that seamlessly weaves its way throughout the shows characters adn themes. I’d hazard to say that Bareilles is the key ingredient that has cooked Waitress to perfection in thousands of audiences’ eyes.
Stin’s Final Thought: As you enter the theatre, don’t be confused if you smell the scent of pies. They’re purposely wafting that smell to lure you in. Sadly, it just made me want a proper Australian pie all the more.
Waitress is now playing at the Adelphi Theatre in London and will continue to play on Broadway until January 2020. Waitress will open at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney in 2020.
Tickets and information below.