BWW Review: WAITRESS at Broadway Theater League
"Waitress" at the Music Hall from Theater League is bright, bouncy, delightfully produced, and more than a tad naughty in places. A sparkling cast takes a pretty good independent movie, adds songs by Sarah Bareilles and a rewrite of the book by Jessie Nelson and turns it into an entertaining evening at the theater.
The show lightly tells the story of waitress Jenna Hunterson (Desi Oakley) of Joe's Pie Diner somewhere in the mythical small town American South and her two waitress buddies Becky (Charity Angel Dawson) and Dawn (Lenne Klingaman). In addition to waiting on tables, Jenna is also a master piemaker. Her pies are legendary with appropriately legendarily imaginary names. Joe (Larry Marshall), the actual owner of the diner, has retired, but he continues to make a daily appearance at the restaurant with very specific orders for the staff. Joe takes a fatherly interest in young Jenna.
Jenna is feeling queasy. Her co-workers insist she take a home pregnancy test that shows her in the early stages of a pregnancy. Jenna is distressed. She is married to a boar-ish nightmare of a good old boy predictably named Earl (Nick Bailey). The baby is the product of a drunken mistake. Jenna wants to be rid of Earl, who perennially loses his jobs, lounges around the house, and appropriates her tips, but she is afraid of him. Becky and Dawn urge Jenna to dump Earl. Jenna conjures a plan to win a regional pie-baking contest and begin a new life with the substantial prize money sans Earl.
She visits her local medical clinic. Jenna expects to see the female doctor who delivered her into the world. Her familiar doctor has retired. In her place is a young good-looking male doctor named Jim Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart). Jenna is immediately smitten and vice versa.
Meanwhile back at the diner, kind of nerdy Dawn has joined a dating service and found a perfect nerdy match. Dawn loves Revolutionary Reenactments as Betsy Ross. Her new boyfriend Ogie (Jeremy Morse) is a tax auditor who fancies himself Paul Revere. One wonders if political correctness might have forced original Civil War Reenactors back further in time to the American Revolution.
Bold and Brassy Becky gets drawn into a comic affair with cook Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin). Both are permanently married, but troubled through no fault of their own. They rekindle a spark for each other and in this show that's OK.
Anyways, that is the set-up. The voices are all excellent. The music is very much bubble gum pop, accessible, and fun. The second act "torchy" realization number is just where it ought to be. The dancing is first rate. The dozens of sets on wagons or set pieces descending from the flies are extremely well done. Scene changes are a complicated ballet that keeps the show moving without pause. Even the orchestra is located on a wagon that rolls on and off stage.
Of special note is Desi Oakley as the lead character, Jenna. She is cute, funny, absolutely on her game and has a voice that rings clear like a very lovely bell. Jeremy Morse (Ogie) brings down the house with his comic antics as Dawn's loving foil. And I have a soft spot for Larry Marshall as Joe. He is a true gentleman and a great character actor. It is a pleasure to see him again. Larry was in the original cast of "Hair" 49 years ago and was featured in the "Hair Retrospective" at the KC Rep in 2014.
"Waitress" is worth your time. You might bring your best girl or best guy to this fine show. "Waitress continues at the Music Hall through Sunday, November 19. Tickets are available on the Theater League website or by telephone at 816-421-7500.
Photos courtesy of the Theater League and Joan Marcus.