Adelphi Theatre, London – booking until 19 October 2019
Based on the 2007 film of the same name, Waitress is a quirky, sweet, fun show by late comedic legend Adrienne Shelly. Having taken Broadway by storm, it has now opened in London and is a pastry-wrapped parcel of theatrical sweetness.
With music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, its the score that’s really the stand out factor of this show. The music is a magical combination of folk, pop, country and musical theatre, and gives the show a really cinematic element. The contrast between high energy songs, calmer numbers and highly emotive pieces cleverly matches the way the show highlights the highs and lows of life.
As we are welcomed into the Adelphi Theatre with the smell of pie permeating the air, we instantly feel a sense of relaxation and as if we really are visiting the small diner in rural America where most of the show is set. We’re introduced to the characters as if they’re friends and get to see the great cast at work.
In Waitress, the ensemble acts as though it is one. Of course they scatter the stage and have individual character moments, but they really come into their own when they work as a team. Much of the choreography (Lorin Latarro) is ensemble based and features smooth movements as well as perfectly timed motions.
The men and women combine at times to symbolise Jenna’s internal thoughts, as well as keeping the show fluid and highlighting the connections between people on stage. Natural feeling movements are in reality, highly choreographed but the show still feels pretty free and spontaneous.
Whilst the show is cute and there are various witty moments, the book itself is not particularly strong as a whole. Leading lady Jenna, is pregnant with her abusive husband’s child and falls in love with her gynaecologist Dr Pomatter, whilst her work colleagues also have romances of their own.
The romantic encounters are charming but the consistent cheating which runs throughout the show, feels somewhat jarring. It’s not the cheating itself which feels wrong- Jenna wants someone who loves her outside of her abusive relationship, whilst Becky’s husband is unwell so she feels tied to him- but the lack of resolution to these stories feels unfulfilling. The story is clearly meant to be about female empowerment, but it doesn’t seem right that the men are allowed to act in any way they like. Ogie for example, doesn’t think twice about hounding Dawn when she says no to seeing him again, whilst Dr Pomatter has no qualms with seducing a vulnerable patient. Of course these things are meant to make us root for them and see it as ‘forbidden love’ but unfortunately it leaves a bit of a sour taste.
However, the performances throughout are pretty uniformly wonderful and the cast do all that they can with the book they’ve been given. Katherine McPhee as Jenna, gives a graceful but vivacious performance, which at times feels a little too understated but truly delivers in her stand out moments such as She Used to be Mine. David Hunter is suitably geeky and charming and brings a great vocal performance, whilst Jack McBrayer is hilarious but lacks vocal strength and technique as Ogie. Marisha Wallace is sassy as Becky and Laura Baldwin gives a standout performance as timid, love-struck Dawn.
Waitress is a show that takes you off the beaten track and provides a more intimate, less flashy show compared to those we usually see. This nuanced musical is a sweet treat that will warm your heart purely thanks to it’s quirkiness.
photo credit: Johan Persson