Touring – until August 2022
Reviewed at Curve, Leicester
Following its West End run being cut short due to Covid, Sarah Bareilles and Jessie Nelson’s 2015 musical has set off on a UK and Ireland tour. It offers a sweet slice of Americana, well-balanced with fleshed-out, morally-compromised characters and topped with a belter of a ballad in ‘She Used To Be Mine’.
The story follows Jenna (beautifully played by Aimée Fisher at this performance), a waitress in a small, southern US town whose skill of inventing delicious pies provides an escape to her unhealthy marriage. Pregnant and scared of how her life might change, she finds herself having an affair with her doctor and dreaming of making something new for herself.
I had read some reviews which complained about the musical’s odd shifts in tone. It’s true that Waitress does swing from frivolous comedy to more serious fare quite quickly. The diner scenes led by Jenna, Becky and Dawn highlight the chemistry within the company and the onstage band. There is much to enjoy about these scenes including the awkwardness of Ogie (George Crawford), Dawn’s new date. The blue sky and open road provide a backdrop to Scott Pask’s bright diner to convey a sense of American optimism.
Furthermore, the scenes in the gynaecologist’s office between Jenna and the awkward New England Dr Pomatter (Matt Jay-Willis) climax to a funny montage involving a number of different pies and positions! On the other hand, outside the safe confines of the diner, there is a clear sense of Jenna being trapped in an abusive marriage to Earl. In fact, suggestions of alcohol problems, unemployment, and a host of unhappy marriages sprinkled across the town show that life is not always sweet as apple pie.
The result in these shifts is that several lines don’t land as well as you might expect and some plot strands don’t get properly resolved. But this refusal for pat endings is also quite admirable. There’s often a danger with this scale of Broadway musical for the shifts in tone to be overproduced, the emotional points carefully and mechanically timed to pull at heartstrings. However, in Waitress, as in life, the contradictions of comedy and drama sit alongside each other like blueberry and bacon in a deep-dish pie. As Jenna says, she is “imperfect but she tries/ She is good but she lies” and she’s “all of this mixed up/ And baked in a beautiful pie”. The result is that Waitress has its pie and eats it.
Bareilles’ country/pop-ish score is very enjoyable and the ‘Sugar Butter Flour’ motif nicely signifies the flights of fancy where Jenna imagines what her life could be. And the eleventh-hour number ‘She Used To Be Mine’ really takes off. There’s a moment in it where the scruffy living room set rolls off and the stage opens up to leave Jenna singing out to the auditorium with the open sky behind her. It’s surely one of the most iconic moments of musical theatre in the last decade, and Aimée Fisher had the theatre in the palm of her hand.
Fisher makes Jenna instantly likeable, capturing her aw-shucks personality and contradictions subtly. Sandra Marvin and Evelyn Hoskins provide excellent support and comedic relief as Jenna’s best friends. And Michael Stark gives a nice performance as the diner’s owner, going from irritable customer to a paternal figure who ultimately gives Jenna the keys to her new life. And Diane Paulus’ direction keeps the show slickly moving forward and embraces the messy fun of baking. For all its flaws, Waitress is a hugely enjoyable and warm-hearted show which captures a bit of small-town USA. Go grab yourself a slice of red, white and blueberry pie.
Waitress plays at Curve, Leicester until 29th January as part of a UK and Ireland tour.
For further dates, please visit Waitress: The Romantic Musical Comedy | Official UK Tour Site (waitressthemusical.co.uk)
Evelyn Hoskins as Dawn and the company of Waitress. Credit: Johan Persson.
‘A hugely enjoyable & warm-hearted show’: @nobillington grabs a ‘sweet slice’ of pie & Americana with @WaitressUK on tour. #musicals #theatrereviews