Review: Lovely 'Waitress' is cooked with all the right ingredients
Courtesy of Bway In Detroit
Serving up all kinds of pie euphemisms (with the occasional sugar, butter, flour) the Tony award winning “Waitress” - based on Adrienne Shelly's 2007 Sundance darling - whips together a heaping mix of winning ingredients, including an especially sweet spot: Christine Dwyer’s brilliant portrayal of Jenna Hunterson. Capturing the spunk and humor of the 2007 rom-com (which starred Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion), “Waitress” has been enjoying a healthy run since its 2015 inception thanks largely in part to Sara Bareilles (the singer behind such piano-fueled pop hits as “Brave” and “Love Song”) who helped the show amass a gigantic following spanning across the globe. After attending the opening night performance of the newly mounted tour in Detroit, MI- I can see why. While Jessie Nelson’s book doesn’t push the boundaries in terms of bold narrative storytelling (it’s all fairly predictable as most romantic comedies are) - “Waitress” does find its uncanny versatility from Dwyer and her friends/co-workers Dawn (a zany and scene stealing Ephie Aardema) and Becky (Maiesha McQueen delivering one ferocious performance). Together they all wait tables at a small rinky-dink diner, and soon Jenna (Dwyer) finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, and looking for a way to escape her loveless and abusive marriage. Lucky for Jenna, she bakes the best pies in town - and as the show progresses she dreams of cooking up a better life for herself and her new baby and hopes to win a local baking contest (with a grand prize north of $20k)to start fresh. Matters only seen to complicate when she starts fooling around with her gynecologist (a winning and daffy Steven Good), all while juggling her work and abusive home life. Bareilles has mounted a terrific score that pairs well under Diane Paulus’s direction and Lorin Latarro’s seamless choreography. The production is filled with sweet and quirky touches (prepare for many clever pie-related innuendos) and Nelson’s book certainly knows how to handle those wonderfully oddball moments. I couldn’t help but feel that much like other small town stories, “Waitress” would rather fill its seams with lovable characters (most notable, Dawn’s love interest Ogie - an earnest Jeremy Morse – whose presence, it should be noted, got the biggest applause of the night) then actually defining them. All the people in Jenna’s life feel more like caricatures than real individuals, for example Dawn likes revolutionary war reenactments - which is about all we get from her side of the table, and Becky is allotted a flashy song (“I Didn’t Plan It”) that kicks off Act 2.
Additionally, “Waitress” would rather breeze over the real trauma and anguish that comes from an abusive husband (something the film achieved) than attack it head on, and I know the production is supposed to be light and breezy, I’d just wish it had pushed the envelope further. Granted, most of the songs on the roster fill the voids of the scripts minimal shortcomings, Dwyer brings a nuanced and show stopping scene during the ballad “She Used to Be Mine,” which didn’t leave a dry eye in the house. She makes Jenna someone you want to root for, even more so as we see her relationship with the doctor getting more strange, wacky, and funny as the show goes along. “Waitress” never gets too dark, with Bareilles doing a fine job keeping the tone and humor upbeat without being too cheesy. The ensemble sounds terrific with their layered harmonies and ballads alongside the livelier musical interludes, which are boosted by the small but mighty six-piece orchestra who live on stage during most of the performance.
Sets by Scott Pask feature an open world like a canvas, and the scene transitions and dreamlike sequences create a fun texture on stage. This all contributing to the effortlessly funny thematics on display, while staying keen on baking in plenty of sweet and tender moments that are both wise and humble with their charming intentions remaining intact. Just be careful not to overindulge if you’ve got a sweet tooth; you may find yourself coming back for seconds.
"Waitress" continues through May 19th at The Fisher Theatre, tickets start at $39 and can be purchased via Ticketmaster.