Adelphi Theatre, London – booking until 19 October 2019
True story, I didn’t love Waitress when I first saw it in my Broadway Blitz of 2016. But as it sometimes the way, upon listening to the cast recording again and then again, I fell for the show that way, and so was delighted with news of its UK premiere at the Adelphi Theatre.
To think of it as a big Broadway show is to misinterpret what it is trying to do though. Jessie Nelson (book) and Sara Bareilles’ (music and lyrics) adaptation of Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 indie flick is a subtler thing than much West End fare, an intimate story of pies, pregnancy and just how much we’ll put up with.
Diane Paulus’ production is appealing throughout, exceedingly well cast in its Anglo-American company. Katharine McPhee is a compelling central presence as Jenna, a waitress and skilled pie-baker trapped in an abusive marriage which has resulted in a pregnancy about which she is, at best, ambivalent.
She finds her joy in the kitchen and with her workmates Becky and Dawn (Marisha Wallace and Laura Baldwin, both excellent in their contrasting ways) and their connection offers up the show’s musical highlight – the marshmallow-sweet harmonies of ‘A Soft Place to Land’, typical of Bareilles’ tendency for the beautiful rather than the dramatic with her music (perfectly realised under Katharine Woolley’s musical direction).
The gender politics of the show are a little shakier. I don’t think the book does quite enough to explain why Jenna stays with the awful Earl, and gives too much of a pass to her as she starts an affair with her gynaecologist Dr Pomatter, marital fidelity really comes in for a bashing here. The saving grace though is David Hunter’s skilfully klutzy comic performance.
And Jack McBrayer is showstoppingly hysterical as Ogie, the man who wins Dawn over with his own very particular charm. The result is a show which is funnier and lighter than you might expect, full of musical treats and sugary warmth.