BWW Review: Order Up! WAITRESS National Tour at Boston Opera House

BWW Review: Order Up! WAITRESS National Tour at Boston Opera House

Waitress

Book by Jessie Nelson, Music & Lyrics by Sara Bareilles, Based upon the motion picture written by Adrienne Shelly, Directed by Diane Paulus; Choreographer, Lorin Latarro; Orchestrations, Sara Bareilles & The Waitress Band; Music Supervision & Arrangements, Nadia DiGiallonardo; Music Coordinator, John Miller; Set Design, Scott Pask; Costume Design, Suttirat Anne Larlarb; Lighting Design, Ken Billington; Sound Design, Jonathan Deans; Production Stage Manager, Jovon E. Shuck; Stage Manager, Nicole Olson; Musicians: Conductor/Piano, Jenny Cartney, Lilli Wosk, Elena Bonomo, Lexi Bodick, Nick Anton, Ed Hamilton

CAST (in order of appearance): Desi Oakley, Ryan G. Dunkin, Lenne Klingaman, Charity Angél Dawson, Larry Marshall, Nick Bailey, Grace Stockdale, Jim Hogan, Maiesha McQueen, Bryan Fenkart, Jeremy Morse, Kyra Kennedy, Kelsey Joy Davis, Simonne Stern, Patrick Dunn, Gerianne Pérez

Performances through March 4 as part of the Lexus Broadway In Boston Season at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston, MA; Tickets at the Box Office, Ticketmaster 800-982-2787 or www.BroadwayInBoston.com

Nearly three years after it premiered at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, and while still enjoying a successful run on Broadway, the national tour of Waitress is serving customers at the Boston Opera House as part of the Lexus Broadway In Boston 2017-2018 season. The Diane Paulus-driven and directed production is adapted from the 2007 motion picture of the same name written by Adrienne Shelly, with book by Jessie Nelson, and music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles. The Broadway designers are on board to bring the same creative elements to the tour, and a handful of the cast has also performed with the show on the Great White Way.

Waitress is the story of Jenna, a pie-maker extraordinaire who plies her artistry at Joe's Pie Diner surrounded by her supportive work family, all the while dreaming of a way to escape her small town and loveless marriage with an abusive husband. When she finds herself pregnant, her new doctor opens the door to unexpected possibilities. Once Jenna declares her independence and stands up for her right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, her uplifting musical journey showcases the strength she draws from her friends, remembering her mother's wisdom, and the bond of new motherhood.

Just as in baking a pie, it is important that all of the ingredients in a show blend well. Jenna (Desi Oakley) and her fellow waitresses Becky (Charity Angél Dawson) and Dawn (Lenne Klingaman) authentically represent the worker bees buzzing around the diner, run by gruff Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin), owned by persnickety Joe (Larry Marshall), and populated by an assortment of singing, dancing regular customers. When the show kicks off with the hustle and bustle of the morning rush ("Opening Up"), the set pieces slide into place, and the band takes up residence on a sled upstage, you can almost smell the coffee and taste the eggs as they come off the griddle. Augmented by choreographer Lorin Latarro's organic stage movement, Paulus sets an energetic pace and the story unfolds quickly as we meet Jenna's husband, A#1 creep Earl (Nick Bailey), nerdy Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart), and Ogie (Jeremy Morse, who originated the role at A.R.T.), Dawn's persistent blind date.

Oakley has a tough act to follow in that Jessie Mueller was the original Jenna, both in Cambridge and New York. Oakley is not as commanding, but is an engaging performer who connects well with her scene partners and can handle the vocal demands of Bareilles' music, especially breaking loose with a primal scream in what is arguably the best song in the score, Jenna's 11 o'clock number, "She Used to Be Mine." Dawson is no stranger to her role, and does right by the brash Becky, unapologetically delivering her anthem, "I Didn't Plan It." As the mousy member of the trio, Klingaman wrings the humor out of Dawn, even if her character comes off as a bit cartoonish. It is great to see Morse return as the wacky Ogie, whose antics are meant to charm rather than offend. He slays in both of his songs ("Never Ever Getting Rid of Me," "I Love You Like a Table") and appears to be having more fun than anybody else on stage.

Fenkart displays good comic timing and ease with his character, and Maiesha McQueen casts some fine side-eye as the doc's Nurse Norma. On opening night, Simonne Stern from Beverly, MA went on as little Lulu in her Boston Opera House debut (she alternates performances with Kelsey Davis from Millis, MA). The rest of the ensemble consists of Patrick Dunn, Jim Hogan, Kyra Kennedy, Gerianne Pérez, and Grace Stockdale. Half a dozen musicians comprise the band, led by conductor Jenny Cartney, and their onstage presence lends itself to a feeling of cohesion among the entire company. As much as there is to like about the story and the characters, the Bareilles score is the jewel in the crown of Waitress and this cast has the voices to deliver it.

It is worth noting that Waitress was cooked up by a groundbreaking all-female creative team (Paulus, Bareilles, Nelson, and Latarro) and, not unlike Shelly's film, skews to the female perspective. However, perhaps with the exception of Earl, the abuser, the male characters are fully realized, three-dimensional, and primarily good people. Like the women of Waitress, they are allowed to be exactly who they are, i.e., human, and are all doing the best they can. It's a simple recipe for success in life and in the theater. With a nod to Irving Berlin, "Let's have another cup of coffee, and let's have another piece of pie."

Photo credit: Joan Marcus (Desi Oakley, Charity Angél Dawson, Lenne Klingaman)

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From This Author Nancy Grossman

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