BWW Review: Sugar, Butter, Vancouver! WAITRESS “Opens Up” at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Delicious pies, love stories, and music written by Sara Bareilles are just a few things of many that make the musical: Waitress, a must-see this season. Playing at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre until November 17th, Broadway Across Canada's Waitress officially premiered in Vancouver, B.C. with a brand new National Tour cast on Tuesday. Led by the amazing Bailey McCall as the show's lead: Jenna Hunterson, this touring production did not fail to impress me with its emotion, music, and energy.
Based on the movie by Adrienne Shelly, Waitress tells the story of Jenna Hunterson. She is a Waitress (and impressive pie maker) at a small diner and is in an abusive relationship with her husband, Earl. Jenna finds out that she is pregnant with Earl's baby and also finds herself having an affair with her doctor as time progresses. Will Jenna find the courage to leave Earl for a better life for her and her child? How will the affair she's having with her doctor play out? Come see the show to find out!
I had the pleasure of seeing Waitress on Broadway last year when Katharine McPhee played Jenna in the show. Compared to the New York production, this cast overall was definitely up to par and even exceeded my expectations. Despite some small mishaps such as dropped napkins and spilt coffee, I think that opening night for this production went well! One of the things I loved about this show was its set designed by Scott Pask. The set was perfectly tailored to give the same old-school diner vibe from the movie. With the drop down "Joe's Diner" neon sign, puffy cushion bar stools, checkered floor, and booth seating, the diner set was the perfect home base for the show to take place. What I really appreciated from the production was how they blocked parts of the stage out for smaller, more intimate scenes. Examples of this included scenes involving Jenna and Earl's interactions at home. The big stage had the possibility to take away from the power of the scenes; however, a honed in stage allowed the audience to take in more of the emotion of the plot.
WAITRESS had the perfect balance of dialogue and musical numbers. I really liked this aspect of the show as it made the plot easy to follow and captured the audience's attention better. Although moments of the show were heavy and emotional, I felt that the stripped down dialogue moments allowed the show to convey its message effectively. This show tackled the problem of domestic abuse and showed both the internal and external struggles of a person experiencing the abuse. A very powerful moment of the show was when Bailey McCall (Jenna) sang "She Used To Be Mine." What I absolutely loved about McCall's rendition was the multitude of emotions she conveyed on stage while singing it. You could see the internal conflict in her eyes while feeling the passion of her message as she sang. "She is messy, but she's kind; she is lonely most of the time; she is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie; she is gone, but she used to be mine" were the most powerful lyrics of the song and the show. I will never forget McCall's performance.
On a more lighthearted note, Waitress had many gold comedy moments that had the audience and I laughing uncontrollably. From one-liners such as "the fuller the condiments, the fuller the experience" to the witty banter between Becky (played by Kennedy Salters) and Cal (played by Jake Mills), there were many points in the show that got the audience in the giggles. In particular, Brian Lundy (who played Ogie) was a definite crowd favorite. Both of Lundy's solo songs: "Never Ever Getting Rid of Me" and "I Love You Like a Table" were equal parts hilarious and entertaining. His energy was truly infectious and brought me joy every time he was on stage. I really appreciated these moments, as they made the show a lot of fun to watch!
Speaking more about the cast, I really thought they did an excellent job in the show. It was really great to see the strong bond that Jenna, Becky, and Dawn played by Bailey McCall, Kennedy Salters, and Gabriella Marzetta had. They set a good example of what it looks like for women to lift up and support other women. They made me believe that even in the darkest or lowest moments of your life, there are people out there that care about you and will listen to you. Salters' powerhouse vocals, sassy personality, and connections with the other actors were all contributing factors to her outstanding performance. Marzetta evolved from a shy Waitress to a strong, confident woman. I loved the quirkiness she brought to Dawn and her relationship with fellow scene-stealer Brian Lundy (Ogie). McCall was no doubt the star of the show for me. She fitted her role so perfectly with her vocals, acting, and stage presence Jenna. In the show, we can see that Jenna exhibits 2 personas when she's at work vs. when she's at home with Earl. She's both happy and sad, depressed yet overly joyful, and reserved but erratic at times. At face value, Jenna seems like an easy role to play; however, as you dive deeper into the show, you can see she has many deep-rooted layers to her character. McCall is a true culmination of all these layers on-stage and for that, I have to say she was absolutely perfect for the role. Bravo!
On the whole, I genuinely loved this show from the bottom of my heart. With the songs written by Sara Bareilles sung by the most talented actors, I can guarantee you will leave the theatre delightfully satisfied. Another reason to see this production would also be that both cast members Alice Antoinette Comer and Kate Whiddington are both from Vancouver and make their professional musical debut in the show! It would be a missed opportunity to not see this show in Vancouver this week. "It only takes a taste" of WATIRESS for you to be hooked on it!
Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel, 2019