BWW Review: Broadway Across Canada's WAITRESS Will Leave You Feeling Warm and Fuzzy - and Craving Pie
Waitress, adapted from the 2007 film of the same name, tells the story of Jenna Hunterson, a pie-maker/waitress working at Joe's Pie Diner somewhere in the southern United States. Jenna (Bailey McCall) is unhappily married to Earl (Clayton Howe), who is physically and emotionally abusive. When she finds out that she is pregnant, even though she doesn't want it, Jenna vows to keep the baby and find a way out of her loveless marriage. Her co-workers, the geeky Dawn (Gabriella Marzetta) and the no-nonsense Becky (Kennedy Salters), have their own personal issues but provide much-needed comfort and support to Jenna.
Each of the three women are lonely in different ways and each of them use a man in order to alleviate some of that loneliness.
Dawn has started online dating despite her insecurities, laid out for all to see in "When He Sees Me". After Dawn's disastrous first date with Ogie (Brian Lundy), the latter proves his persistence when he shows up at the diner to convince Dawn that they are meant to be together, although in a slightly stalker-ish way ("Never Ever Getting Rid of Me").
Becky's husband is ill and requires her assistance for things like changing his diapers. She, too, finds an unexpected romance to distract her from her home life ("I Didn't Plan It"). Salters' strong vocal performance carries this song.
Jenna begins an affair with her gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter (David Socolar), who is also married, even though they both realize that it is a "Bad Idea", in one of the best musical numbers of the show. The chemistry between McCall and Socolar is palpable.
The central cast is rounded out with Cal (Jake Mills), the diner's manager, and Joe (Michael R. Douglass), the irritable old man that owns the joint and has a soft spot for both Jenna and her pies. It is Joe that tells Jenna her pie is good enough to enter a contest to win $20,000 that would finally allow her to leave her husband.
For its Ottawa run, Waitress features two local children in the role of Lulu, Jenna's daughter, who makes an appearance towards the end of the show (Autumn Jae Boisvert, alternating with Sofia Robinson-Stiermann).
As with Rent earlier this year, it was sometimes difficult to make out the lyrics, so whatever the issue is with the sound at the NAC's Southam Hall, it is annoyingly persistent.
McCall was at her best in her heart-wrenching rendition of "She Used to Be Mine", where Jenna laments the loss of the control she has over her own life. Bareilles' powerful lyrics sum up Jenna's fragile emotional state: "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".
The star of the show is ultimately Scott Pask's fabulous sets that are in continuous transition - from the elaborate diner - to the kitchen prep area - to Jenna and Earl's living room - to the doctor's office - to the hospital - and even to the diner's restroom. A mix of prop and real pies are used in the show and they all look delicious.
Jenna names her pies based on her frame of mind as she is creating them and their monikers are quite clever. These include "Betrayed by My Eggs Pie", "I Don't Want Earl's Baby Pie" and "I Can't Have No Affair Because It's Wrong and I Don't Want Earl to Kill Me Pie". For patrons who want to be fully immersed in the experience, the concessions offer individual sized pies for sale, albeit with standard names (I can vouch for the raspberry).
The use of ingredients and kitchen tools as props was ingenious and added to the overall quirky feel of the show. For example, the actors' blew flour to create dust clouds for atmospheric effect and used spoons and whisks as percussion instruments. That was just simply brilliant. Ken Billington's lighting was also skilfully used to highlight the drama in several scenes.
It is fitting that a show that is essentially about the empowerment of women was crafted entirely by women. When it opened on Broadway in 2016, it made history as the first show with an entirely female creative team. The musical was adapted from the film written by the late Adrienne Shelly, with the book written by Jessie Nelson, directed by Diane Paulus, choreography by Lorin Latarro and with music and lyrics composed by Sara Bareilles. Tragically, Adrienne Shelly was herself a victim of violence against women and Waitress is dedicated to her memory.
Nominated for four Tony awards, Waitress plays out more like a television show or a movie than a traditional Broadway musical. It also manages some truly comedic moments, despite the inherent darkness of the subject matter. Bareilles' country-folk score fits well with the rest of the dialogue and gives the show its homey, natural feel. The relatability of the three lead characters is what I think gives this show its lasting appeal. That is, that and all the pie.
Waitress, presented by Broadway Across Canada, is at the National Arts Centre's Southam Hall through January 5, 2020. Click here for more information or to buy tickets.