BWW Review: Wonderful WAITRESS at PPAC
When the movie Waitress premiered in 2007, it was roundly praised, but didn't make too big of a splash, so it seems like an odd choice of source material to turn into a Broadway musical. It turns out, that this story works incredibly well in this format, and delivers a musical with great songs, and a unique, quirky spirit that is infectious. There's also the added bonus of the smell of pie wafting through the lobby and theatre. This is the first "smell-o-vision" show I've been to, and the yummy smell of cinnamon and pie crust makes this show a feast for all senses.
Jenna is a waitress and pie-maker working at a diner. Though her world is rather small, she finds ways to be creative and think big by coming up with a new pie for the diner every day. Her only friends are her co-workers, Dawn and Becky, and she's in a loveless and somewhat tense marriage with a man named Earl. Somehow, despite the lack of intimacy in her marriage, Jenna finds herself pregnant and decides to keep the baby. What follows is a relatable and real struggle of a woman trying to figure out what she wants, what she needs and what she deserves. Even people who haven't been in this exact circumstance can find pieces of themselves in Jenna's situation. She has a genuine talent for baking, but is stuck geographically and financially; she feels guilt that her own mother sacrificed so much for her, and now it seems like she's squandering that gift.
Christine Dwyer as Jenna has both the voice and the comic timing to make this character thoroughly endearing. The songs, by Sara Bareilles, are outstanding and heartfelt, and Dwyer's voice soars through the vast space of Providence Performing Arts Center. Equally talented are her co-stars Ephie Aardema as Dawn and Melody A. Betts as Becky, with Betts stealing the show at several points with some seriously impressive vocal calisthenics.
Another scene stealer is Jeremy Morse as Ogie, Dawn's love interest, and a man whose enthusiasm for historical re-enacting knows no bounds. He sweeps into the cafe with the confidence of a man determined to get the woman he thinks is his destiny, and Dawn quickly realizes that they just might be soul mates.
There is a lot to love about this show--in particular the fact that while there is a bit of a romance, Jenna also doesn't need a man to save her. There's a perfect feminist backbone throughout that doesn't beat the viewer over the head, but rather presents a story in such a way that it communicates volumes about the emotional labor that women take on silently. It's subtle, but it's also noteworthy that the book, music & lyrics and choreography were all done by women, based on the screenplay by Adrienne Shelly. This musical is a celebration of the women who are unlikely to celebrate themselves.
WAITRESS runs May 28 - June 2, 2019 at Providence Performing Arts Center 220 Weybosset Street in Providence. . Tickets are available at ppacri.org, by phone at (401) 421-ARTS (2787) and in-person at the PPAC Box Office.
Photo: Christine Dwyer as Jenna. Photo by Tim Trumble