BWW Review: WAITRESS at Music Hall At Fair Park
At first glance (or at least throughout the first act), Broadway's hit musical WAITRESS, which opened last week at the Musical Hall at Fair Park, seems to be sugar-coated and overstuffed. With its country-pop tunes and slow-but-sweet pacing, the first course lacks substance, instead offering just enough fluff to spoil your appetite. But, when the second portion is finally served, a meatier musical unfolds full of heart.
Sugar, butter, and flour were the ingredients intended to a bake a handful of popular pies, but it's a bun in the oven that sets small-town server Jenna's timer ticking. Her deadbeat dud of a husband, Earl, has been a disappointment since high school, but her nightly tips don't make her enough to get on her own two feet, let alone support her and her unborn child. But Jenna finds hope in a local pie-baking contest, which provides the winner with the nest egg she's dreaming of. And, friends of Joe's Pie Diner, where Jenna (along with pals Charity and Dawn) turns tables, have no doubt she'll take home first prize with pies like Deep Dish Blueberry and Marshmallow Mermaid. Everything seems peachy-pie-keen until Earl derails the plan and forces her back to square one. Yet, with a dash of girl power and a sprinkle of moving lyrics, there's no doubt Jenna will eventually find her footing. Order up!
Three talented leading ladies take on the bulk of the baking: Leanne Kingaman as quirky-but-cute Dawn; Charity Angél Dawson as the steadfast and sassy (and high belting) Becky; and Desi Oakley as down-on-her luck and damaged Jenna, who attacks the world with a tough-as-nails approach until a change in her routine gives her a fresh look at life. Oakley's performance takes a bit to warm up to, but once she soars on her emotional eleven o'clock ballad, "She Used to be Mine," we're there to hold her hand through the final curtain. Bryan Fenkart (Dr. Pomatter), Nick Bailey (Earl), and Ryan G. Duncan (Cal) prove perfect scene partners for the night, but it's Jeremy Morse (Ogie) who is hands-down the audience favorite. And, just in case there weren't already enough sweet treats on stage, four-year-old Eliza Chabot of Farmers Branch (who alternates nightly with Quinn Johnson of Grapevine), enters late in the evening as the cherry on top, with the most adorable smile you've ever seen onstage (and she knows all the lyrics, too!).
Scriptwriter Jessie Nelson's book is both witty and poignant, although it occasionally tries a tad too hard to land a joke. Numerous subplots and leading-secondary characters too often take the spotlight away from Jenna's story, which forces the audience searching for focus for a good portion of act one. Fortunately, the material is often heightened by director Diane Paulus' direction, which focuses on the many intimate relationships that fill the stage. Paulus allows each joke to land, but quickly brings the characters back to reality to keep the story moving. Alternatively, choreographer Lorin Latarro struggles to find a movement vocabulary that fits into the show, often enabling the supporting members to unnecessarily steal attention at inopportune moments. Sara Bareilles' tunes are all hummable and enjoyable, spanning a number of genres, from country to pop, musical theatre, R&B and everything else in between.
WAITRESS might not be a game changer in the musical theatre catalog, but just like the slices of sugary pie sold in the theatre's lobby, it's more than tasty enough to waste a few empty calories on. The musical continues at Music Hall at Fair Park as part of Dallas Summer Musicals' 2017-2018 season though Sunday, April 8th. Tickets and more information can be found at www.DallasSummerMusicals.org.