Waitress-Life is What You Bake It

Hi. Ive been busy with finals the last week so i haveń´t had much time to write. We got to London on the 29th and I saw Waitress at the Adelphi Theater that evening. Here are some thoughts on it.

Start with a base of a 2007 independent movie, stir in a Grammy-nominated score, fold in powerful feminist themes of motherhood and self-reclamation, and the resulting hit musical Waitress will go down easy as a piece of pie. Witnessing the November 29 performance at the Adelphi theater was a treat in every sense.

The musical is based on the 2007 movie written and directed by Adrienne Shelley. The story centers on Jenna (played by Lucie Jones at the Adelphi), a waitress and pie prodigy at a small town diner in rural America. When she finds herself pregnant by her parasitic husband and begins an affair with the new gynecologist in town, she finally finds some self-confidence and the grit to make a better life for her daughter. Jenna is supported by coworkers Becky (Sandra Marvin), Dawn (Laura Baldwin) and Cal (Stephen Leask), along with a lively selection of patrons. Most stories have at least one character who features as a guardian angel, but this story has two. Jenna is supported by the presence of diner owner Joe, and by memories of her late mother.

While all of the characters are somewhat two-dimensional, the most irritating example was Jenna’s husband Earl, played by Tamlyn Henderson. Throughout the play he consistently abuses her in every possible way, from verbal insults to implied sexual assault. Jenna is continually encouraged to leave Earl, and the birth of her daughter finally pushes her to stand up to him in a satisfying comeuppance.

Not only does Jenna break up with Earl in the delivery room, she also breaks up with Dr. Pomatter. Throughout the play, the doctor comes across as awkward and goofy, but remains a source of tenderness and care for Jenna, despite his own marriage. I found myself rooting for Jenna and Dr, P, and then remembering that the relationship is an affair and feeling conflicted.

The musical is built on a score by Grammy winner Sara Bareilles. Her single “She Used to Be Mine” is seen as the cornerstone of the show, but I was disappointed by this rendition. The song is performed in the second act of the show, after Earl has confronted Jenna about hidden money and she decides to drop out of the baking contest that would have changed her life. Sara B performs the song with an aching nostalgia that transforms into determination to change her situation. However, Jones sang the song in a higher range than originally performed and came across as nervous throughout the performance, and the determination of the second half of the song came across as desperation. This is not necessarily an incorrect interpretation of the song, it just felt too forceful for my taste. However, the rest of the score is energetic, heartwarming, and pitch-perfect.

Two songs that I found incredibly endearing were “When He Sees Me” and “You Matter to Me”. The former is performed by anxious waitress Dawn in anticipation of her first date. The song hits on many modern fears about the kind of men out there (“he might sit too close or call the waiter by his first name”), but it also touches on the more poignant and personal fears of rejection and abandonment that haunt us all on the search for love and understanding. This search is reflected from the other angle in “You Matter to Me”, a tender duet between Jenna and Pomatter as they bake a pie together. Jenna’s revelation of what acceptance and desire feel like

In contrast with the simple one-room set of Last Orders at the Dockside, the set of Waitress involved many moving parts such as tables and a counter for the diner, a living room for the house, and a table for a gynecological office and hospital room. I was impressed with the speed and efficiency of the scene changes, often involving members of the ensemble. One interesting feature was an orchestra on a platform that rolled in and out. For a majority of the show, the orchestra platform stayed on stage right but for the final number

One of the sweetest surprises of the play was the appearance of Lulu, played alternately by Juliette Clemens-Lary and Annabelle Jones. In the performance I saw, the child was either a fabulous actress or Lucie’s daughter. The last song of the play reveals that Jenna has taken over the shop and renamed it Lulu’s Pies, getting herself and her daughter on their feet surrounded by friends.

Overall I give the show a 10/10 for an entertaining cast, strong musical score, and powerful themes of self-reclamation and family. I would recommend this show for a mother-daughter night, or for those who need reminding of their own potential.

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