Adelphi Theatre, London – booking until 19 October 2019
Of all the new musicals that Broadway has shipped to London in recent years, Waitress is quite possibly the greatest as Sara Bareillles takes an unflinching look at 21st century America through the eyes of waitress Jenna and her two best friends and workmates, Becky and Dawn.
But what makes this transatlantic transfer quite such a success, is that while the musical is set in a nameless small-town, somewhere, anywhere, in the States – and Scott Pask’s set design is terrific, all disappearing telegraph lines and ingeniously sliding interior locations – Bareilles’ tale drawn from Adrienne Shelly’s movie, is a celebration of modern womanhood that transcends all borders.
Katharine McPhee crosses the pond from the Broadway production to open the Adelphi run and she is wonderful. Unhappily married to the abusive – albeit not without his own complex history – Earl, she is a hardworking woman with a gift for making inventive pies who finds herself early in the show with an unplanned pregnancy.
One of the show’s gritty strengths is its ability to upend traditional trends. Devastated at her pregnancy, Jenna nonetheless vows to remain strong, making the most of hers and her baby’s future, and it is this grasp of verité that places Waitress firmly within the sphere of most of its audiences. That of course, and its songs. Bareilles’ acute eye for life and rhythm serves up a collection of glorious numbers that range from country, to rock, to Jenna’s scorchingly tender solo ballad ‘She Used To Be Mine’.
Bareilles and Jessie Nelson sweeten their tale with liberal amounts of comedy. Marisha Wallace’s Becky is recognisably wonderful as the much put upon spouse of a disabled husband, who while she loves him deeply, seeks her sexual satisfaction elsewhere. And Laura Baldwin is the wonderfully gauche and cooky Dawn, who discovers an unlikely online soulmate in Ogie, and who steals the show in her first half big number ‘When He Sees Me’.
Waitress’ men are no more than supporting roles in this celebration of womanhood – but they are neatly fleshed out turns. Peter Hannah is a convincingly unpleasant Earl as Jack McBrayer joins McPhee as a well placed American import. McBrayer’s physical presence and comic timing as Ogie is a work of genius. In the most complex of male supports, David Hunter plays Dr Pomatter, Jenner’s (married) gynaecologist, with whom she strikes up a brief but passionate affair . Hunter captures the awkward fusion of an unethical love (complete with in-flagrante comedy) together with a sincerely credible pathos.
The modest supporting roles are all perfectly delivered. Shaun Prendergast as the wise and saintly diner owner Joe is an occasional charming diversion, while Stephen Leask’s diner chef Cal and Kelly Agbowu’s Nurse Norma are both brilliantly observed characters.
Katharine Woolley’s 6 piece on stage band make fine work of Bareilles’ score and credit to director Diane Paulus, who must truly be one of the most visionary helmswomen on Broadway today. Credit too to producers Barry and Fran Weissler who, on seeing the movie some years back, had the vision to assemble Bareilles, Paulus and Nelson and create the finest deep-dish screen to stage transition in decades.
Booking until 19th OctoberPhoto credit: Johan Persson