Desi Oakley in the National Tour of WAITRESS. Photo by Joan Marcus.
By Marie Warner
Based on the 2007 film of the same name, WAITRESS, delivers a large slice of small-town charm.
Jenna is a waitress and pie baking whiz at a small diner in an unnamed southern town. Trapped in a loveless and abusive marriage, she spends her time baking outlandish pies and fantasizing about winning a pie contest and leaving her slacker husband, Earl. When she finds out she’s pregnant, Jenna fears all her hopes for a happy life will be dashed. However, through an affair with her married gynecologist, the support of her friends Dawn and Becky, and the birth of her daughter, Jenna learns she has the power to create happiness for her self.
Desi Oakley is lovely as Jenna. Her voice is gorgeous and she is equally good in the comedic “Bad Idea” as she is in the heartbreaking “She Used to Be Mine”. Supporting players Lenne Klingaman as Dawn and Charity Angél Dawson as Becky are outstanding. Klingaman brings a great physicality to the role and is incredibly winsome. Dawson is a powerhouse vocalist and maybe an audiologist could better explain this, but she hit a note at the end of “I Didn’t Plan It” that resonated on some particular frequency that made my bones feel like they were going to come apart. In the best possible way.
Jeremy Morse plays Dawn’s love interest, the eccentric Ogie, and he straight up steals the show. He is hysterical and bizarre and sweet and does the best clogging I’ve seen in ages.
Singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles composed the music and if you are a fan of her solo work (“Love Song”, “Brave” etc) you will most likely enjoy WAITRESS as well. While all the songs are pleasant, some are best described as vague. This is a common pitfall for pop artists who make the foray into musical theater. Songs like “What Baking Can Do” and “You Matter To Me” are lovely, but don’t do much to move the plot forward. However, Bareilles creates some terrific comedic numbers in “When He Sees Me” and “Bad Idea”.
The charming set design by Scott Pask slides in and out on tracks, and on the night I attended, a set piece became caught in a curtain and the show temporarily halted. The cast was not deterred by the delay, and everything ran smoothly after that.
The props play a huge part in this production. Jenna creates fantastical pies in an almost trance-like state, while the ensemble provides the ingredients. Butter, sugar, and flour cascade, pour and fly across the stage. Jenna rolls out real dough for pie crusts. Her baking is such an integral part of the story, and this staging makes otherwise hard to see ingredients real and immediate.
WAITRESS is also notable for being the first Broadway production to have an all-female creative team. This is a fitting tribute to Adrienne Shelly, who wrote, directed, and appeared in the original film. Following her murder in 2006, The Adrienne Shelly Foundation was created to support women filmmakers.
WAITRESS is not without shortcomings, but it ultimately presents an empowering vision of friendship, love, and the happiness we can make for ourselves.
WAITRESS Plays at Music Hall through November 19th