“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“
Sara Bareilles’s smash musical Waitress came to a premature close in London’s West End at the start of the Covid pandemic, but has now resumed in a UK tour which started at the New Wimbledon Theatre on the 4 September.
Based on Adrienne Shelley’s film of the same name, Waitress is a powerful female-led musical which focuses on three ladies who work at Joe’s Diner, taking orders of savories and sides, and over thirty kinds of sweet pies, all crafted by lead character Jenna (delicate yet huge voiced Lucie Jones) on the premises.
Jenna’s world is small and restricted by the husband who takes her for granted. When she and Earl (Tamlyn Henderson, extremely effective in a difficult part) married, they were young and idealistic. Now they are on different paths, and she’s about to find out her bouts of nausea indicate a total chance of focus.
Her workmates have their own crosses to bear: Becky (Sandra Marvin) is bouncy and upbeat, but with a poorly husband at home and spice on the side; Dawn (Evie Hoskins) is shy and geeky, seeking her mirror image through a dating column. As Dawn finds Ogie (a hugely comedic George Crawford) – whatever you may think of their bedtime historical reinactments – Jenna is drawn to her new gynecologist, Dr Pomatter (a lovely turn from Busted’s Matt Jay-Willis).
Waitress doesn’t have much in the way of huge memorable songs, other than the Act 2 showstopper She Used To Be Mine, which caused an impromptu standing ovation for Jones at last night’s gala performance. There are smaller moments, of which A Soft Place to Land (for Jones, Marvin and Hoskins), and Bad Idea (for Jones and Jay-Willis) stand out.
The Joe of Joe’s Diner is a daily presence and something of a sugar daddy without the strings, beautifully played by Michael Starke who has a soft heart under his brusque exterior. The other main characters are Cal, the diner’s manager (played by Christopher D Hunt, who makes the most of the character’s complicated facets), and Nurse Norma (Scarlet Gabriel), who is the mistress of double takes and snide asides in every appearance.
Waitress is a sugary confection in which Jenna creates pie names and recipes for her daydreams. There’s a new and touching nod to Broadway original cast member Nick Cordero, with the “Live your Life” pie; but other names such as the “Couch Potato” and “Lost Shepherd’s Pie” feature. The recipes reflect the state of Jenna’s mind and many are lifted directly from the original film.
The six piece band often enter the diner and subtlely underscore the action; this isn’t a production like Amelie, where actor -musicians populate the cast, but it makes for an intimate feel. However, the sound balance is still a little overpowering at times and perhaps needs to be addressed so as not to overpower the singers. The ensemble of players respond well to Lorin Latarro’s choreography and Diane Paulus’s direction gives everyone a sense of space.
It may be as simple as “sugar, butter, flour”, but Waitress is not afraid to step out of the sweetness to tackle moments of domestic coercion and “being happy enough”. You can argue all you like about its moral code and abrupt ending, but this is ultimately a thoughtful and tuneful piece of entertainment that might make you head for the baking bowl.
Waitress is due to tour into 2022, and is at the New WimbledonTheatre until 11 September. For further dates and to book tickets, go to https://www.waitressthemusical.co.uk/.
Image credit: Johan Persson