When I first heard that 5-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles was writing the music and lyrics to a new musical, based off the 2007 film of the same name starring Keri Russell, I knew I had to see it. I often don't spend time following a musical from rumor to workshop to Broadway but this one I did. I was ecstatic to hear that it would be touring and all my expectations were blown out of the water last night. Not only was it a stellar production but it really wasn't just a night out to see a show. It was a complete and full circle experience from the minute I walked into the historic Orpheum .
Waitress made headlines when it first opened on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in April 2016. Not only did Sara Bareilles write the music and lyrics, but it also included an all-female creative team. Direction, writing, choreography, costume design, musical direction - all by women. While it did not win any of the four Tony Awards it was nominated for (Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by a Leading Actress and Featured Actor in a musical) it is still running on Broadway. One thing I get sad about after the Tony Awards is hearing about all the productions that will close after not winning, however, Waitress beat those odds. It is still going strong and included many popular stars in leading roles. Recently Bareilles even played the leading role for a limited engagement.
Waitress tells the story of Jenna, a waitress at a local dinner in a small town. She is known for making countless of pies, fresh, each day for the diner. Her two best friends Becky and Dawn work at the diner with her and are some of her biggest supporters. While Jenna dreams of getting out of her loveless and abusive marriage, she discovers she is pregnant. A pie baking contest with a large prize and the town's new doctor give her a shed of light and may offer her a chance at a fresh start. She slowly starts an affair with the doctor. Soon Jenna must summon the strength and courage to rebuild her own life and finally put herself, and her soon to be child, first.
The book, written by Jessie Nelson, is beautiful. It's empowering, delightfully funny, charming and, honestly, perfect. All the characters are so down to earth and real. Many times we see musicals with out of this world personalities and scenarios that audiences would only see in a musical, however, Waitress gives a fresh new take on what a plot can be. Each character is struggling with their own problems that many audience members can relate to. It really does resonate with audiences and I think that's so important and noteworthy.
Bareilles writes a commanding and captivating score for this story. There is a nice variety of styles of music from quirky fun songs like "When He Sees Me" which is about Dawn feeling anxious and uncomfortable about going out on a date and "The Negative" which takes place in a bathroom with Jenna, Dawn and Becky as they wait for Jenna's pregnancy test. The music also features powerful songs like "She Used To Be Mine" which is sung by Jenna towards the end of the show. The scene in which she performs this easily tops my favorite performances I've ever seen. Yes, that's right. Ever. This leads me into how utterly remarkable Desi Oakley is as Jenna.
Oakley embodies what exactly what Jenna is. She is sarcastic but caring. She struggles but also is strong and courageous. She emotes on stage and commands the entire audience, even the back row, to feel what she is feeling. At times I completely related to her on a personal level. Am I in an abusive relationship and pregnant? No, but the way she connects with the audience you feel exactly what she felt. Her voice is a showstopper. She has the ability to effortlessly change from upbeat songs like "Bad Idea" to powerful ballads like "She Used To Be Mine." The longest and biggest note of the show is at the end of this ballad and for a moment I thought the audience was going to stand mid-show. The applaud certainly was longer than most and well deserved. I had goosebumps through this entire song.
The rest of the cast is completely on their A game as well. I really appreciated the role of Dr. Jim Pomatter, played by Bryan Fenkart. He's the definition of a-dork-able. It's refreshing to see a production where the male love interest isn't the brooding, muscular, strong, handsome man. But instead we get a dorky, bumbling doctor...who is also handsome. Nick Bailey plays Jenna's husband, Earl and is great at making the entire audience hate his guts. Becky, played by Charity Angel Dawson, has amazing comedic timing and plays well off of Oakley and Dawn, played by Lenne Klingaman. A fun fact was that Dawson actually played the hilarious role of Nurse Norma in the original Broadway Cast. A true full circle moment.
Overall, Waitress is a beautiful story. It has a variety of themes including friendship, being courageous, taking a risk and believing in yourself. The music is amazing, catchy and will have you rushing to download it. Each actor sticks out in their own way but when they come together as an ensemble they knock it out of the park. This production is literally wrapped up and baked in a beautiful pie and I highly recommend everyone see it. Opening night was in fact sold out, so be sure to get your tickets as soon as possible!
Waitress runs at the Orpheum Theatre through Sunday, Nov. 26. Performance times are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here.