Sugar, butter, flour…take one part charm, a cup of comedy, a sprinkling of inappropriate situations, then stir in some great vocals… I call it: Waitress. The Tony and Grammy Award-nominated musical by Jessie Nelson and Sara Bareilles is now baking at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
Waitress, based on the 2007 film of the same name, is the story of Jenna– a waitress in a pie diner off a well-traveled highway whose life did not quite turn out as planned. A deadbeat husband, lack of steady income, and an unplanned pregnancy leave her hiding in her famous pie recipes named for each situation she is in when she creates them. With the help of her fellow wait staff, her doctor, and an unexpected friend, Jenna navigates the most tumultuous time in her life thus far in hopes to find happiness for herself and her unborn baby.
The first thing to note about Christine Dwyer (Jenna) is her clear vocal abilities. Reminiscent of the range of Idina Menzel, it was not a surprise that Dwyer has played Elphaba in Wicked and Maureen in Rent prior to her time touring with Waitress. Her stand out solo “She Used to be Mine” received uproarious applause, and rightfully so. The show stealer, however, was actually Jeremy Morse (Ogie) and his slapstick vaudevillian comedy in “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me.” The screams of laughter throughout the audience followed him through the rest of his stage time and his curtain call. Though I’m sure this song is always funny, I believe he performed it to perfection. Jessie Shelton (Dawn) was endearing and enjoyable any scene she was in, whether she was also providing physical comedy or having a poignant moment, Shelton was truly a delight. The dynamic between Maiesha McQueen (Becky) and Ryan G. Dunkin (Cal) was also very funny, reminiscent of how many of us wish we could talk to our bosses, Becky’s sass and wit serve as a mood lifter, contrasting more serious things going on around her.
I am a big nerd for set design, and this might have been one of my favorites. A simple set with few moving parts that could take you to several places in Jenna’s world. A Dr.’s office could quickly turn back into a diner simply by turning set pieces around. Waitress also appears to use the pulley system that allows set pieces to move across the stage without actor/tech interference. Many set pieces were still moved on and off stage by the Company, but were seamlessly worked into the blocking and choreography. What could not be conveyed with sets alone was done with lighting, allowing the audience to know when we were in Jenna’s head vs. when we were in the moment of a scene. Spotlights assisted with training the eye on specific factors in a scene and felt almost film-like. It was a really great transition from film to stage. One of my favorite things about the set was actually that the band was on stage as well through much of the performance. Blending in as though they could be live music in the diner, the band moved around scenes allowing us to not only see them, but the characters to interact with them on occasion.
I did not know what to expect when coming to see Waitress. I honestly had not seen the movie and was not familiar with the story or music. I was overall impressed with the show. It was vibrant, happy, funny, a little crass, and overall a good time. This show is sure to be one of the classics thanks to its dynamic storytelling, and the amazing music of Sara Bareilles. Grab yourself a slice of pie and go see Waitress.