Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
I went into Waitress with a little hesitancy; the plot, as I understood it, sounded soap opera-ish. But I was wrong. The story deals with three waitresses, Jenna, Dawn and Becky, who work in a pie shop. They bake pies, serve pies, and make the little pie diner popular in the neighborhood. Each of the three lives with her own personal problems. The pie issues and personal problems collide on the stage in front of the audience.
The main focus is on Jenna (Desi Oakley). She learned to bake pies from her mother who taught her to bake as therapy. The two women worked in the kitchen to avoid Jenna's father who was often drunk and ill-tempered. Jenna made an error when she married Earl (Nick Bailey). Earl is physically violent, especially when he's been drinking. When Earl learns Jenna is pregnant, he forces her to the sofa and makes her promise: "You'll always love me more than that baby." His arrogance lost him his job and he doesn't seem to be able to find a new one, (his unpleasant reputation gets in the way when he job hunts). Jenna's life gets more complicated when becomes attract to Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart), her OB-GYN, who is also married and returns her affections.
Desi Oakley does exactly what a good actress should do: she permits her character to change and evolve as the story goes forward. In the early scenes she is quiet, mouse like; she does what her husband demands she do. But, eventually, she grows in physical and mental energy and finds the strength to set her life on the right track.
Nick Bailey's Earl comes off like a good old boy. He probably lives his life as he remembers his father lived his life, and he treats women the way he learned from his father. Earl's role is not written to show maturity or change. He insists all of his problems are not of his own making. When he loses his job, he becomes more intense and insistent that it's not his fault.
In another section of the pie shop, Becky (Charity Angel Dawson) has her own romantic problems, which will come to a satisfactory solution. Dawson slowly moves her subplot along until her romantic part of the story opens up. She is an excellent actress and a superior singer.
Joe, played by Larry Marshall, is an elderly gentleman who visits the pie diner every day. Joe tells stories, sings songs, and is such a charming gentleman that most of us would enjoy having a slice of pie with him. He also serves as a protector of the waitresses. Though Joe is about 80 years old, he's not afraid to confront the big, burly husbands and bosses in the diner. Joe confronts the husbands, encourages and helps the waitresses, and slowly gives advice that should help everyone. Marshall has an extensive acting resume, and many of the shows on that resume are musicals. Consequently, he has learned to act his songs (and lyrics). He is excellent when he's in charge of the song and has a big, strong voice.
Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin) owns the pie diner and attempts to run the shop with an iron hand. However, only moments into the performance, the audience realizes the three waitresses really run the place. Cal's rough exterior is a simple cover for his tender interior. Occasionally, he almost becomes the Ann Landers of the plot.
Jeremy Morse, as Ogie, is the most physically active performer on the stage. On several occasions he stops the show with his elaborate dance moves. Ogie is a man in love and pursues Dawn (Lenne Klingaman) until the big wedding scene, with most of the cast on stage. Morse is good fun for the audience and the other performers on the stage. He sings and dances well and seems to enjoy performing for the audience.
The six-piece Waitress Band is onstage throughout most of the performance. The instrumentalists provide back-up for musical numbers and background or mood music for many of the scenes.
Waitress' charming script and winning performances provide an entertaining and though-provoking evening in the theater. I'm willing to bet most married audience members talked about their marriages on their way home.
Waitress, through November 5, 2017, at Connor Palace, Playhouse Square, Cleveland OH. For ticket information, call 216-241-6000 or visit playhousesquare.org. For more information on the tour, visit waitressthemusical.com.
Book: Jessie Nelson