BWW Review: WAITRESS at ASU Gammage
From the moment the audience is reminded to turn off their cell phones with a humorous ditty performed by Sara Bareilles, it is apparent that the audience is in for a good time. The opening number "What's Inside" introduces the entire company, effortlessly led by Christine Dwyer as Jenna. Dwyer presents Jenna as unassuming and gentle, but definitely shows the strength of character to make her life-changing growth during the finale believable. Her voice especially shines during the penultimate song, "She Used to Be Mine" which leaves the audience breathless.
The audience quickly learns that Jenna is pregnant after a drunken night with her husband, Earl, played with expert arrogance by Nick Bailey. It's not that this man doesn't know how to love, it's that he only knows how to love himself. The boos he received from the audience during the curtain call prove that he's great at his job. Jenna's friends, and co-workers, Dawn and Becky, played by Lenne Klingaman and Tatiana Lofton, provide reassurance, support, and encouragement. When these ladies sing, they have the audience in the palms of their hands.
The relationship between Jenna and Dr. Pomatter, played by Bryan Fenkart, develops inexplicably, but the chemistry between Dwyer and Fenkart is electrifying. While Dr. Pomatter's behavior is played off as his anxiety, at certain moments, it came across as slapstick. There are several genuine moments between the two, and the relationship signifies growth for both parties.
I have to give a shout out to the fantastic ensemble of this production. Each member of the ensemble plays multiple roles and adds to the overall charm of the production. The set changes are seamless, which is impressive considering the size of the set. There are several instances where Jenna is imagining a new pie and the ensemble floats her through the air to the next scene. It's breathtaking and beautiful.
The supporting cast is phenomenal. The relationship that develops between Dawn and Ogie, brilliantly played by Jeremy Morse, is heartwarming and brings hope to even the hardest heart. Ogie got the biggest laughs of the night and rightly so. Morse has fantastic energy and he delivers his lines with sincerity and humor. Cal, played by Ryan G. Dunkin, is surly, but his comedic timing is superb. The trio of Jenna, Dawn, and Becky provided one of the most poignant moments of the evening during "A Soft Place to Land". The harmonies were transcendent and the desires of each character were easily understood.
One of my favorite aspects of the production is the live band on stage. The band brought a unique presence, without detracting from the mood of the production. In the scene at the bus stop between Jenna and Dr. Pomatter, an upright bass is a prominent feature which created momentum and excitement. The band interacted with the actors which made the environment feel more real and welcoming. The band, led by Robert Cookman and Lilli Wosk, leaves an unforgettable impression.
While the story of Waitress is simple: Jenna grappling with the reality of her pregnancy, her desire to leave her husband and find a better life, an affair with a man who gives her the kind of attention her husband can't, Jenna realizes that you can be really happy and not just "happy enough". She embraces her new life as a mother and with the help of a kind, old man, creates the life she deserves.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus