Soul searching and pie making go hand-in-hand in the hit musical, “Waitress,” opening the U.S. national tour at Playhouse Square through November 5, 2017. Playing the Connor Palace, this heart-warming story inspired by Adrienne Shelly’s film is the powerhouse brainchild of the all-female creative team featuring original music and lyrics by Grammy® nominee Sara Bareilles, a book by acclaimed screenwriter Jessie Nelson, and direction by Tony Award® winner Diane Paulus.
The story is about Jenna (Desi Oakley), a waitress living in a dead-end marriage. Although she’s a locally famous pie baker, her small town life and unexpected pregnancy throw her already busy personal existence into more of a conundrum.
So what are her sources of escape from her problems? Her co-workers and best friends Dawn (Lenne Klingaman) and Becky (Charity Angél Dawson) are always there for support, laughs, and gossip. And the new, super-hot town physician Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkhart) finds Jenna’s pies particularly hot and desirable.
On a bigger scale, Jenna hopes to win a local pie baking contest, which will help her get the money she needs to start a new life. However, there’s always something bad getting into the mix of her recipe for happiness. Unfortunately, it takes more than “Sugar, Butter, and Flour” to get what she needs these days.
With themes of repression, friendship, and pregnancy served up along with sides of infidelity, perseverance, and family, “Waitress” is a meal of many courses that comes on plates of laughter, in mugs of music, and allows for plenty of leftovers of warm fuzzies to take home.
The actors are delightful in this show. Oakley’s Jenna is beaten down, but retains her inner fire despite a lot of turmoil. Klingaman’s Dawn is delightfully adorable as a nerdy yet chipper and cheerful friend. Dawson’s Becky is a rock of advice and is ever so playful in her don’t-take-crap-from-anyone attitude. These three women are a trio of sisterhood and feelgood friendship.
Diner owner Joe is wonderfully curmudgeonly, as actor Larry Marshall gives him a bit of “Grumpy Bear” crossed with “Crankshaft,” and mixes with the hint of a hug. Diner boss Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin) is also a fun part of diner management, seemingly always around for a well-timed bit of snark or random input.
Nick Bailey’s portrayal of husband Earl is effectively slimy. The character is a bit trashy, a little drunkish, but not an all-out wife beater. Earl is selfish, insecure and not very empathetic. Their marriage is clearly over, but not for him. There is a lot of tension and disappointment in this relationship, and Bailey gets the job done.
The character of Ogie is a special treat! He shows up through the magic of online dating, and actor Jeremy Morse has boundless energy funneled into this clogging, amateur magician. He is hilarious to watch on stage.
The songs are wonderful, and definitely pop-based. The score brings a new appreciation to the vocals of song writer Sara Bareilles, whose range is amazing, and whose delivery is one of a kind. The show melodies are catchy and the harmonies are tight and beautiful. It’s just a great score, and the ensemble blends well together.
Although Oakley has a clear break between her belt and her head voice, she does a nice job overall with the rangey music. “She Used to Be Mine” is especially heartbreaking, and is her best moment in the show that showcases her ability to emote through the music.
Another especially touching moment in the show is Marshall’s “Take it From an Old Man,” where Joe is dancing with Jenna, imparting words of wisdom to her. Tissues are needed, as his performance is endearing and so very moving.
Dawson clearly has the most powerful legit voice on the stage, as her rendition of “I Didn’t Plan It” tears up the house as she blows away every single note with ease. “I didn’t plan it, But that’s life and I’m finally feeling alive, It’s not right but it’s mine, And it’s finally something to feel,” her character of Becky belts.
The band is phenomenal, never missing a beat and rocking every moment. There is a question as to whether or not some cast members could actually fill the house with their own vocals if they didn’t have the microphones to rely on, and the sound mix does need a bit of tweaking, as the band overpowered the singers here and there. A better house mix, and more singer diction should help those issues as the show progresses.
However, make your reservations now – this feast is a palatable portion of pop pie that is not to be missed. The first stop on the national tour is off to a great start and this “Waitress” deserves a great tip!
“Waitress” runs at the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square now through November 5, 2017. Tickets are available at www.playhousesquare.org or by calling 216-241-6000. Show run time – 2 hours and 30 minutes.
*SPECIAL KARAOKE NIGHT: October 31st – Post-Show Cast Album Karaoke! Be sure to find a representative in the lobby when you arrive at the theater or during intermission to sign up for this special post-show event. Sign up with your name and choice of song from the Waitress Cast Album that you would like to sing. Immediately following the performance, our host, Glenn from Star 102, will select the lucky winners who will get to come onstage and sing their song live with the Waitress band!