There are certain shows I really look forward to seeing and get my tickets way in advance. That's what happened with Waitress currently on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Waiting until after it opened and after it received four Tony Awards nominations meant there was more pressure going in as I already knew what others were saying. Well, I was NOT disappointed. From the moment you enter the theater with the aroma of pies and see huge pies lined in cases along the proscenium, you know you are in for a treat.
Based on the film by Adrienne Shelly with a book by Jessie Nelson, a score by Sara Bareilles, and directed by Diane Paulus - this all female creative team has created an old-fashioned musical that feels new and fresh.
Jenna is a waitress in a love-less marriage to her overbearing husband Earl and seeks escape by creating pies with unusual names. (I Don't Wait Earl's Baby Pie, Old Joe's Horny Pie) An unexpected pregnancy, a pie-baking contest, and a new gynecologist all play into Jenna's world as ways to start a new life or does she simply stay and accept the life she has?
Jessie Mueller who won the Tony for playing Carole King in the musical Beautiful is absolutely wonderful as Jenna. She is tired, beaten, but hasn't given in. She is not one of the actresses on Broadway that feels she needs to belt her face off in her every song and gives such great texture to the wonderful songs by Sara Bareilles. (Especially the empowering hit She Used to Mine.) She had two friends she works with that makes life bearable and Kimiko Glenn ann Keala Settle each create such awesome characters making for a great family with Jenna.
Drew Gehling is the quirky doctor that steals Jenna's heart and I really liked that he made the role his own and not a copy of the film. Eric Anderson and Dakin Matthews both show curmudgeons can also have a heart and Nick Cordero gives us a villain without taking him too far over the top. Christopher Fitzgerald uses his comic chops to give us an adorable Ogie that makes you perk up each time he enters the stage.
The ensemble is used brilliantly to aid in Jenna's mind with choreographed moments of creating pies, or being the customers in the store (constantly having to eat), and it's fun that you can tell who must be understudying each lead role. I also loved seeing the pit on the stage. I just wish the sound would have been a little better as we had a tough time at the start hearing performers (perhaps it was the accent the performers are using).
This really is a feel-good musical that seems to do it all right. It gives us comedy, it makes us feel, and it offers an everyday heroine that can create extraordinary out of sugar, butter, and flour. Lastly, they have been smart in their marketing from releasing Sara Bareilles singing the songs before it opened to the social media team that is right on top of everything with this show. Great job by everyone involved with this heart-warming musical!