Waitress

Book by Jessie Nelson, music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, based on the motion picture written by Adrienne Shelly

Brooks Atkinson Theatre, New York

From 25 March 2016

Review by Philip Fisher

Waitress is yet another musical based on a popular movie. For just under 2¾ hours, it follows the pregnancy of Betsy Wolfe’s Jenna Hunterson somewhere in the American South.

The plucky lady belies the show’s title, baking all of the pies as well as serving at Joe’s Pie Diner, somewhere on an isolated road along which no cars ever seem to pass, symbolising the barren lives of the folk who work there.

Sadly, the world of Waitress is not very welcoming, primarily because the men fall into three categories: jerks, kooks and sweet dotty oldies.

Jenna is married to Earl who fits firmly into the first category, as a lazy drunkard and wife beater.

As a result, she has to find life’s little pleasures at work, though that can be tricky with a manager like Cal played by Benny Elledge as a mean slob with few redeeming characteristics. Escape comes primarily through the creativity offered by pie-making and some of the odd daydreams that accompany the process.

On the plus side, Jenna has a couple of stereotypical colleagues, loud, brash Becky and quiet, shy Dawn, respectively NaTasha Yvette Williams and Caitlin Houlahan, both actresses bringing a lot to the party. Old Joe, the owner may be losing his marbles but in the person of Dakin Matthews still has charm and wit, which also helps.

When our star discovers that she has a baby on the way, her initial response is far from enthusiastic. Discovering that her doctor is semi-retired and has been replaced by a nervous young man who inspires little confidence comes as a further body blow. However, in the world of the musical, Dr Potmatter, played by pop star Jason Mraz, soon becomes a dreamboat and a series of pies soon make both think beyond the box of marriage.

In parallel with Jenna’s joy, her workmates also find new outlets for their passions.

Little Dawn dates a geeky tax auditor named Ogie. In this role, Christopher Fitzgerald is a scene stealer, injecting much comedy as the couple mate while re-enacting the revolutionary wars. Becky prefers the mutually adulterous approach, with equal comic possibilities.

Waitress is something of a feminist fairy tale, pace maintained throughout by director Diane Paulus and her cast, accompanied by a live band who are frequently seen on stage.

The music by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles comes from the country and soul end of the pop spectrum, sad ballads often predominating to fit the evening’s mood, especially early on. It peaks with “Bad Idea”, “She Used to be Mine” and “Everything Changes”, showing off the singing talents of the two leads but also NaTasha Yvette Williams and Caitlin Houlahan in styles as different as their characters.

Waitress has already moved into its second year on Broadway and seems perfect fare for those who enjoy mildly feminist tales with a strong escapist element.