The newest production making the leap across the pond to the West End is the Broadway smash hit musical, Waitress. Based on the late Adrienne Shelly’s indie movie hit of the same name, Waitress is a heartfelt but admittedly lightweight story of a woman trapped in an unhappy, abusive marriage, coping with her lot as best she knows how – by baking pies., writes Rosie O’Connell.
Jenna, played by Katharine McPhee, dreams of her freedom and when there is $20,000 up for grabs at a local baking competition she can finally see her way out. When Jenna realises she is pregnant, however, she finds herself at Dr Pomatter’s, her married gynaecologist’s office, and becomes drawn to his awkward, empathetic manner that could potentially present a different sort of escape.
The all-female writing and creative team (a first for Broadway and the West End alike) create a show that is full of feeling and tension that is guided through by Sara Bareilles’ wonderfully pop-folk music and lyrics, and expertly sprinkled with comedic moments from Jessie Nelson’s book. The show balances two sides, there is the serious, sometimes painfully honest, moments from Jenna’s reluctant acceptance of motherhood, to the portrayal of the deadbeat, abusive husband, Earl (Peter Hannah). But then there is the light, frivolous, sex comedy side, filled with eyebrow raising episodes. Yes the piece is full of sugar but it is not without its added spice either. It seems that the balance is relatively well judged; the characters are flawed and morally ambiguous and yet so overwhelmingly likeable.
There, too, doesn’t seem to be a weak link in the casting. Reprising her Broadway role, Katharine McPhee’s simultaneous vulnerability, warmth and aching sadness as Jenna, exudes into the audience, making her confessional lament of a showstopper, “She Used to Be Mine”, even more heart-rending with her powerful voice seeming to lift the roof off. Outstanding too is David Hunter as the self-effacing, clumsy, yet endearing Doctor who takes more than a professional interest in Jenna.
Marisha Wallace and Laura Baldwin are fantastic as Becky and Dawn respectively, Jenna’s work colleagues. Each get to shine in their own numbers, with Wallace nailing Becky’s no nonsense attitude in “I Didn’t Plan It”, and Baldwin charming as the nerdy, shy, Civil War obsessed Dawn in “When He Sees Me”. Jack McBrayer is an absolute riot as Ogie, Dawns prospective, goofy suitor. His performance energises the stage and the audience alike with his lanky, outrageous courtship that is full of magic tricks and hyperactivity.
All in all the show has a big heart. Director Diane Paulus’s production is classy and slick and moves through the changes in tone as smoothly as the changes in scene and set. The overarching balance of sentimentality and silliness leaves a wonderfully fulfilled and warm feeling that is as hard to resist as some of the pies baked throughout would be.
Waitress is on at The Adelphi Theatre, The Strand, London, WC2R 0NS. Times: Monday – Saturday evenings at 7.30pm; Wednesday & Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Admission: £19.50 – £115. Phone: 020 7087 7753
Photos: Johan Persson