BWW Review: WAITRESS Brings A Lot of Heart to Burlington
Waitress: The Musical at The Flynn Center for Performing Arts in Burlington, VT
"She was messy, but she was kind...she is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie." - Sara Bareilles
On two cold January nights, The Flynn Center for the Performing Arts lobby smelled like a delicious pie shop, and the main stage was alive with a story about complicated love, motherhood, and finding the courage to make significant changes. Waitress: The Musical closed its Broadway run on January 5, 2020, and Burlington was one of the first stops on this second US-tour. This musical is the story of a woman who finds herself pregnant and in an abusive relationship and falls in love with her gynecologist, who makes her feel seen and loved for the first time since her mother passed away.
Based on the Waitress (2007) movie, Waitress: The Musical, made Broadway history in 2016, when it debuted with its leading team being helmed by four women: music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, book by Jessie Nelson, Broadway choreography by Lorin Latarro, and direction by Diane Paulus. With these brilliant minds at work, the story of complicated relationships, power, and love is nuanced and an altogether enjoyable ride.
With a live band on stage, intricate choreography, and real pie ingredients as props, this musical is layered with meaning and storytelling. The first few songs set the tone and critical relationships of the story, including the strong female friendships between Jenna (played by Bailey McCall), Becky (played by Kennedy Salters), and Dawn (played by Gabriella Marzetta). Within the first few minutes of the show, the audience knew they were in for a ride that was both heartfelt and funny. This show was not afraid to go to the hard places in life and sit there for a few minutes before bringing the audience back into a well-timed laugh or a surprising shift in a character's trajectory.
"When she is bruised and gets used by a man who can't love." - Sara Bareilles
These moments were especially true in the scenes with Earl, Jenna's husband, (played by Clayton Howe). This character exerted power and control over Jenna in a myriad of ways in a few short minutes. The energy of the audience shifted perceptively when the tension built between these two characters, a crowd that had been laughing and clapping minutes before, had become still and silent. This quiet and level of tension grows each time Earl and Jenna interacted throughout the musical, and it was often broken only by a well-timed joke or Earl moving off-stage. The power struggle and the lack of empowerment in Jenna is the crux of the plot moving forward, and it is here where you understand the stakes.
As a foil to this tension, the relationship between Dawn and Ogie (played by Brian Lundy), is one of comedy and awkward sweetness. Never Ever Getting Rid of Me in act one, is an example of what could be a hard press turned bad by Ogie, but transitions into a mutual relationship and sweet beginning. This number calls for athleticism, comedic timing, and strong vocals on the part of Lundy and it is no small feat for him to get to the end of the song and take a final leap into his chair. The relationship between these two characters is arresting, and for a few moments, you might forget that the audience is here to hear Jenna's story.
This unabashed look at the hard things was also displayed in the love life that each of the women finds in unexpected and non-traditional ways. In particular, the Bad Idea (Reprise), in the second act, joyously celebrates the ability of women to enjoy sexual relationships in ways that society would usually blush. If you happen to be in the audience at a Waitress performance, you might notice your neighbors blushing as well.
Some of the best comedic moments throughout this musical are when the actors drag out the silences. This is particularly true in the silences played between love interests. The silences handed to Kennedy Salters are as beautifully played as the big notes she brings to I Didn't Plan It, a song about owning your mistakes and embracing life exactly how it is and not how it should be.
One theme played throughout this musical is that of motherhood, starting with the representation of Jenna's mother by ensemble member Stephanie Feeback. How that relationship and modeling shows how Jenna has arrived at the place we find her at the beginning of the show, and Jenna's ever-evolving feelings over her own role as a mother. It shows both the sacrifice and inner power a woman gains in that first moment when she becomes a mother.
"Bet it all on yourself at least one time." - Sara Bareilles
Overall, this tour of Waitress the Musical is off to a strong start. There are a few moments in the show where you can see the newness of it, where some big numbers haven't fully hit their stride just yet, but those moments will be polished by the multiple tour dates throughout the US. If you happen to catch the show in a few weeks, those moments will shine brightly.
Photo Credit: Morgan Donohue