One of the big three Broadway musicals opening in the West End this year, Waitress has been baking up a storm at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York for three years, and now it arrives at the Adelphi Theatre accompanied by its all female creative team, including director, Diana Paulus. The musical, with book by Jessie Nelson and music by Sara Bareilles, is based on Adrienne Shelly’s indie film of the same name, and its transformation to a stage musical seems to have sweetened the deal for an already large fan base.
Waitress is one of those small-town stories, filled with eccentric but lovable characters, which makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, yet avoids being too twee. Set primarily in a Southern diner, it is as American as apple pie, but strangely that’s not one of the flavours you’ll find on offer here. Pie, you see, is central to this musical, and while we Brits may not have quite the same love affair with the pastry dessert as our American cousins, the smell of cinnamon that permeates the theatre foyer is enough to get you salivating for what lies ahead.
The central character is Jenna, a waitress and pie chef, who finds solace from an abusive relationship by baking unusually named pies, those names are a form of self-expression, and help us to understand the thoughts and feelings of our protagonist . When Jenna falls pregnant to work-shy and aggressive Earl, she sees a pie baking competition as her chance to escape, but unexpectedly falls for her gynaecologist, Dr. Pomatter, cue ‘Betrayed by my Eggs Pie’ and ‘I Wanna play Doctor with My Gynaecologist Pie’.
As well as the pie titles giving us clues, Jenna is granted a series of short internal monologues, punctuated with a chorus of ‘Sugar. Butter. Flour’, cementing the productions motif and allowing us extra insight to the relationship with her mother and why baking is such an important part of the character’s life.
Scott Pask’s clever set design sees the band upstage, almost as clientele of the diner, indeed pies are often served from the piano. As elements of the diner slide in and out, a wide-open blue sky serves as the backdrop, and represents Jenna’s hopes and dreams, though it completely disappears when the set changes to the confines of Jenna and Earl’s home, where Jenna is stashing wads of cash in the sofa cushions.
Waitress is very much a story of female empowerment, and that’s most evident in the strong female characters. Katharine McPhee pulls in the audience in from the opening number, displaying sensational vocals and a nuanced portrayal of the character. Marisha Wallace gives a delicious performance as the brash and confident Becky, delivering those saucy one-liners with panache, and a solo in the form of ‘I Didn’t Plan It’ that coud easiy be described as a show-stopper . Laura Baldwin lights up the room with a glorious interpretation of Dawn, the unlucky in love geek, with a penchant for revolutionary war re-enactments, not only is her performance comical and charming, it’s a highlight of the production.
With these powerful female leads, there could have been a danger of the male characters being left under-baked. Luckily, that’s not the case. Peter Hannah plays Earl so well you can almost feel the audience ready to form a lynch mob against him, while Jack McBrayer as Ogie, sends the auditorium into an uproar every time he walks on stage. The subplot love story between McBrayer’s Ogie and Baldwin’s Dawn is almost worth seeing the show for on its own. Among the male cast though, it is David Hunter who excels in the role of the Doctor Pomatter, mixing awkward with charming to just the right consistency.
Sara Bareilles’ score is a real blend of musical theatre and small town folksy, with the occasional touch of rock. ‘Opening Up’ and ‘Bad Idea’ will be the ones that stick in your head, while ‘She Used to Be Mine’ is simply breath taking, thanks in the main to Katherine McPhee’s unbelievably strong vocals.
Waitress is a big slice of inspirational characters, served with a side of touching humour. The staging looks great, and the entire cast come at you with so much passion and energy it’s impossible not to be swept up in the moment. This sweet treat of a musical is rich in flavour, with all the right ingredients for success, and if you’re mouth is left watering by all the talk of pies you can buy them in the foyer, or bake them yourself at home with Sugar. Butter. Flour. The Waitress Pie Book