“Waitress” serves up a tasty delight.
The musical, currently on stage at Centennial Hall, is based on the 2007 indie film, which was san songs. But Sara Bareilles score makes you wonder how it could ever have had a life without the music.
Bareilles’ pulled from pop, country, and Broadway ballads to whip together songs that serve the story and seduce the listener. There are songs about peeing on a pregnancy stick, baking, loving, escaping, motherhood. Each deepened our understanding of the character and the story and they were mighty easy on the ears. She also composed and sang the clever turn off your phones ditty before the musical started.
“Waitress” is a slight story — a killer pie maker, Jenna, longs for a way out of her abusive marriage. She handles her life through her pies, inventing new ones and giving them names such as “My Husband’s a Jerk Chicken Pot Pie.”
She wants to leave him but after a drunken night with him, she gets pregnant. She is not overjoyed about that. She begins to plan her escape, hiding money in couch cushions where her husband won’t find it. Once she has enough, she, figures, she can enter a pie-making contest, win big money and she and her child will be gone forever. But things get complicated when she has an affair with her gynecologist. And then her husband finds the money. Oh, it is just a mess. But she’s got her girlfriends. Messes are easier to take when one has girlfriends.
There are a couple of oh-I-can’t-watch moments in the story — I mean, sleeping with your gyno, on the exam table? No, just no. And the depiction of the abusive relationship is painful to watch.
But, the road show of this Broadway musical was a pure delight. Christine Dwyer captured the fear and the innocence of Jenna, and her journey to a woman who speaks her truth and demands respect is plausible.
Jessie Shelton as Dawn and Maiesha McQueen as Becky, both shone as Jenna’s fellow waitresses, loyal friends who long for love while they provide emotional support to Jenna. And they, like Dwyer, have voices that soar.
The doc with the questionable ethics was given a goofy charm by Steven Good. It’s easy to see the chemistry between him and Jenna.
The audience applauded enthusiastically for everyone at the end of the show, but when Jeremy Morse took his bow, the crowd went wild. Morse played Ogie, who woos the geeky Dawn. He is the ultimate oddball who does magic and Revolutionary War reenactments. Oh, and he only eats white foods on Wednesdays. Morse is a keen physical comedian, which just made his character all the more delicious.
The Diane Paulus-directed production is seamless, smoothly moving from one scene to the next. It helped that the scenic designer Scott Pask (he designed the sets for Arizona Theatre Company’s “Music Man”) created a set that quickly and gracefully transformed into a kitchen, a diner, a hospital room, an apartment, a doctor’s office. It was impressively clever.
“Waitress” may not make you think. But it will make you smile. And it’ll serve up Sara Bareilles songs sung with expertise and feeling. That’s a fine way to spend an evening.