Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
The story centers around Jenna (an enthralling Desi Oakley), a young woman pigeonholed by a loveless marriage and a low paying job as a waitress. Her colleagues at the diner, the brash Becky (a scene-stealing Charity Angél Dawson) and Dawn (a delightful Lenne Klingaman) also suffer from unfulfilled ambitions. These three reminded me a bit of the 1970s TV sitcom "Alice"; there's even an overweight and overbearing cook in the mix. I kept waiting for Becky to yell, "Kiss my grits!" Jenna is serious, though, seeking an escape from her troublesome life in the imaginative pies she bakes for the diner. The news that she's pregnant forces her to make some difficult decisions that will alter her life forever.
Jessie Nelson has adapted Adrienne Shelly's screenplay for the 2007 film by the same name, and the feminist themes are evident both onstage and off, with a female director completing the team. Notable pop songwriter and Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles made her musical theatre composing debut (and, incidentally, her Broadway performing debut) with this show, providing both music and lyrics. Her score is one of those rarities that feels equally suited for the theater and the radio. "She Used to Be Mine," sung by Jenna late in the second act, proves how poignantly effective a song can be in capturing a character and a moment. Let's hope we hear more from Bareilles on the stage in the near future.
Under the direction of Tony-winning director Diane Paulus, the production is conventional yet innovative, particularly in its strategies to keep the story flowing seamlessly. Scott Pask's scenic design is simple enough in terms of staging yet attentive to detail, from the grungy tile floor of a diner to the faux wood paneling walls of a trailer. Lighting design by Broadway favorite Ken Billington effectively changes scenes and mood within the same set. And Josh Dean's sound design is felt throughout the musical, especially in the lovely yet eerie echoes heard in multiple daydream and memory sequences. Choreographer Lorin Latarro has taken the pedestrian movements of such things as waiting tables and baking, and turned them into something quite beautiful. The movement enlivens unexpected moments, especially a scene involving labor pains.
The production truly belongs to the three main characters. Desi Oakley turns the character of Jenna into a believable young woman who eventually takes charge of her life. Charity Angél Dawson and Lenne Klingaman nearly share equal billing with her; each has her own number to showcase not only who she is but what she's capable of. The men in these characters' lives prove to be excellent foils. Bryan Fenkart is both lovable and hilarious as Jenna's gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter. Nick Bailey, as Jenna's husband Earl, has a wonderful singing voice, though it's not properly showcased in this production. He is so effective as the bad guy, he was stuck sheepishly waving off the audience who gleefully booed him at the performance I attended. The comedic standout of the production is Jeremy Morse's Ogie, who walks away with more than one scene and with not one but two comedic numbers.
In today's world of the #metoo movement, Waitress the musical may resonate even more strongly than Waitress the film did a decade ago. The show feels both loving and true in its regard for Jenna, who doesn't get a fairytale ending but manages to rescue herself nonetheless.
Waitress, through May 6, 2018, presented by SunTrust Broadway at Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. Durham NC. Tickets can be purchased online at www.dpacnc.com, www.ticketmaster.com, or the Ticket Center at DPAC in person or by phone at 919-680-2787. For more information on the tour, visit waitressthemusical.com/tour.
Music and Lyrics: Sara