BWW Review: WAITRESS at SHEA'S BUFFALO Theatre
A successful Broadway musical has always been anchored by an engaging story augmented by a great score. Over the years the formula hasn't changed much but the sound of the music certainly has, as popular music changes and evolves. The 30's had Cole Porter, Burt Bacharach and his synthesizers appeared in the 60's, and Elton John's pop score succeeded for THE LION KING , so no one should be surprised that Sara Bareilles and her unique style of song writing could be next on the list. Her 2016 score to WAITRESS, now playing for a one week engagement at Shea's, earned her a TONY nomination and the show has a been a hit ever since.
While Miss Bareilles is an unconventional choice for a Broadway score, her mellow style coupled with her plaintive lyrics are in many ways are a perfect fit for WAITRESS. Her acoustic sound with foundation in American Country and Indy music fits the bill for almost all of the characters. The first few songs have a similarity that didn't portend well for delivering a well balanced score, but Bareilles soon proved that she can write more than love songs and power ballads. The comic numbers "When He Sees Me" and "Never Ever Getting Rid of Me" for the secondary characters were clever and infectious.
Based on the motion picture by Adrienne Shelly, this modern day take on Alice and the Mel's Diner crowd has 3 hard working waitresses scraping by in middle America. Young waitress Jenna is also the pie maker extraordinaire responsible to the daily creations that take on quirky names depending on her mood (Berry the Bullshit Pie and Sweet Victory Pie). Desi Oakley is a knockout as Jenna, the unhappy waitress in a bad marriage who finds she is pregnant at the outset. Her silvery voice modulates with ease through the tricky score. Interestingly, Miss Bareilles herself is playing the part on Broadway presently, but Buffalo audiences are in for a treat as Oakley is a powerhouse in her own right . Her Act II "Everything Changes" elicits goose bumps as Oakley commands the stage, full of determination and star power. Her two sidekicks include Charity Angel Dawson as the loud mouth belter Becky, earning laughs at every opportunity, while Lenne Klingaman is nerdishly charming as Dawn.
Bryan Fenkart is Dr. Pomatter, the gawky new obstetrician in town who falls hard for his new patient, Jenna. The story of the inappropriate Doctor- Patient relationship is a bit awkward and uncomfortable, but happily is lightened by the wise cracking antics of office nurse Norma, hilariously played Maiesha McQueen. Fenkart is great with the physical comedy bits he is given but is stretched by the vocals in the highest notes.
Jeremy Morse is utterly hysterical as Dawn's new love interest, Ogie. His compact frame and awkward dancing coupled with groan inducing poems made him lovable from the outset. Meanwhile Larry Marshall was charming as the old curmudgeon diner patron Joe, whose own backstory is key to the final outcome.
The book by Jessie Nelson is served well by swift direction by superstar Broadway Director Diane Paulus- who has helmed such successes as PIPPIN and PORGY AND BESS. Paulus propels the action with cinematic flare, gliding scenes on and off stage, never allowing the story to waver. The idea of a small community diner is emphasized by having the band onstage with the ensemble. They are used not only as chorus, but as backup singers who clap along propelling the drama and boosting the power of some of Bareille's writing.
The all female artistic team fits WAITRESS's bill of fare perfectly giving each of the down on their luck woman a chance to overcome obstacles and adversities, all with an air of credibility and dignity. These ladies shine as beacons of strong and capable independent females.
WAITRESS runs through Sunday February 11, 2018 at Shea's Buffalo Theatre. Contact sheas.org for more information.