Reviewed – 7th March 2019
“a smart and sensitive script with a magnificent sense of humour”
If you’re at all interested in musical theatre, then Waitress probably needs no introduction. The musical adaptation of Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film of the same name went down a treat on Broadway in 2016, garnering a host of Tony nominations, and its transfer to the West End has been hotly anticipated by many. If the name Waitress doesn’t mean anything to you yet, then here’s a quick summary: it’s an absolute firecracker.
The plot centres on Jenna (Katharine McPhee), a waitress and skilled pie maker at a local diner, whose life is thrown into chaos upon realising she’s fallen pregnant at the hands of her abusive husband, Earl (Peter Hannah). With the support of her two colleagues and friends, Becky (Marisha Wallace) and Dawn (Laura Baldwin), and her new gynaecologist Dr Pomatter (David Hunter), she is forced to make choices for herself and her child that question what true happiness entails and whether motherhood and a career are allowed to thrive in tandem.
Jessie Nelson’s book delivers a beautiful blend of delicious comedy and more complex ruminations on the greyer morality of relationships to mull over – with both Jenna and Becky in unsatisfying relationships, and Dawn desperately seeking love, they make a lot of questionable choices that are ultimately treated with sympathy and understanding by the script, as well as by Diane Paulus’ direction, and Sara Bareilles’ music and lyrics. Certain moments feel like tired tropes being wheeled out, such as Dawn suddenly being seen as more attractive after taking off her glasses and letting her hair down, and the end of the show dismisses some of the nuanced ingredients it was mixing for the sake of a more sickly-sweet conclusion that felt like it was just trying to wrap everything up neatly, but overall Waitress features a smart and sensitive script with a magnificent sense of humour.
Bareilles’ songs amplify this too, with the pop-fuelled score incorporating soaring melodies and beautiful harmonies to punctuate character moments and relationships, and keep the tone and atmosphere firmly pinned to the setting of the American South. Particular highlights are Dawn’s neurotic ‘When He Sees Me’ and the Act One finale ‘Bad Idea’, as well as its reprise in Act Two – the hugely theatrical nature of these songs allowed for slick and dynamic choreography from Lorin Latarro, creating a visual and audial combination that was an absolute joy to consume.
The performances were ceaselessly strong all round. McPhee’s vocals were heavenly in the show’s signature song, ‘She Used to Be Mine’, and Wallace and Hunter brought an enrapturing amount of depth and empathy to their respective characters of Becky and Dr Pomatter. Jack McBrayer also demonstrates his scene-stealing comic prowess as Dawn’s love interest Ogie. Paulus’ direction brings out the best in all the characters and keeps the show moving at a tight pace, allowing everyone’s creativity to shine through when needed.
Waitress is not flawless, and is in no way a revolution for musical theatre, but the restless sense of joy and fun it invokes cannot be overstated – this show is utterly delectable.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by Johan Persson
Adelphi Theatre until 19th October
Last ten shows covered by this reviewer: