When Waitress was announced to be transferring from Broadway to the West End, I was so excited. Earning itself four Tony Award nominations, based on the 2007 film and with music by Sara Bareilles, the audience are invited to follow the story of Jenna, small-town waitress struggling in an unhappy, abusive marriage with Earl, who beats her and takes her money. Wanting to leave him, she is hopeful to enter a local baking competition seeing the prize money as her way out. She is further trapped when she discovers she is pregnant and finds baking to be her only form of freedom and self-expression. Her love for baking, her two good friends Becky and Dawn and her blossoming relationship with Dr. Pomatter give Jenna hope. However, in this story, Jenna is on a search for her own self-worth and is too entangled in this journey to become entangled with a man committed to someone else.
Entering the Adelphi Theatre for a preview performance, the smell of cinnamon, warm apples and pastry was overwhelming. I noticed pies were being baked around the theatre to create the perfect atmosphere. Small pies are sold by the ushers in salted caramel chocolate, banoffee and apple crumble flavours. By the time I entered the auditorium, I felt like I was immersed in Joe’s Pie Diner. Around the proscenium, lit in neon pink lighting inside chrome and glass cabinets, were various pies. I was ready, already impressed by the effort to engage the audience and in my element.
My expectations were high, having listened to the Broadway soundtrack on loop for months and booking my tickets as soon as they were announced in a pre-sale. I was absolutely not disappointed.
Katharine McPhee, (from the fifth season of American Idol and hit TV show Smash), playing Jenna, gave a standout performance, filled with grace as she pulled at everyone’s heartstrings belting She Used to Be Mine, a song dedicated to the imperfect life Jenna is leaving behind as she becomes a mother. She balances Jenna’s sorrow with strength. There were several tearful eyes in the audience and it received the first mid-show standing ovation I’ve ever witnessed. It was absolutely deserved.
Marisha Wallace (Dreamgirls) as Becky brings the role perfect punch, alongside Laura Baldwin (Eugenius) as the geeky but charming Dawn. The relationship between the women was enchanting and believable.
Jack McBrayer (30 Rock, The Jack and Triumph Show) as the eccentric Ogie almost stole the show with an hilarious and endearing performance of Never Getting Rid of Me, matched by David Hunter’s (Kinky Boots) performance as Dr Pomatter. In a montage of fumbling sexual encounters between Pomatter and Jenna, he is absolutely committed to the role. It would be an injustice if this cast didn’t receive Olivier nominations in 2020. Fact.
Somewhat unique to this production is the fact the band are often visible onstage, appearing in the diner on a raised platform. Seeing the musicians work in this way, rather than hidden in the pit below the stage, gave me a greater appreciation for the work they do.
The production boasts an all-female creative team. The book is by Jessie Nelson, and direction is by Diane Paulus. Grammy-nominated Sara Bareilles’ music is both soft and empowering, telling the story beautifully. Bad Idea which received a raucous response from the audience, A Dream is a Soft Place to Land and She Used to Be Mine are standout songs. Matched with Lorin Latarro’s choreography, the production is the perfect collaboration. Jenna’s empowering story is told by an empowering team, as all-female creatives are sadly few and far between.
Waitress epitomises feel-good. It’s warm, it’s powerful, has heart and you can’t help but feel immersed in Jenna’s world with the smell of pie lingering in the air as the cast draw you in emotionally. With a strong focus on the power of female-friendships and the relationship between mother and daughter, and with Mother’s Day approaching, this would be the perfect show to take your Mum along to!
All image sources here