Broadway review: “Waitress” is a sweet treat
April 11, 2017
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From the moment you walk into the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, you know you’re in for a sweet show. Why? Because on the sides of the stage, there’s over 50 pies spinning around on display, and the theatre smells as if those pies were just freshly made today.
Based off the 2007 film of the same name, “Waitress” is the story of Jenna Hunterson, a small-town waitress and pie maker who unexpectedly becomes pregnant. Feeling trapped in her loveless marriage, Jenna looks for happiness in other places, such as an affair with her gynecologist and entering a pie-making contest. But through these experiences, she quickly finds out that life is unexpected and changes in an instant.
On March 31, the new Jenna, musician Sara Barellies, began her time in the spotlight. Though it was hard to follow Jessie Mueller’s portrayal of the character, which earned her a Tony nomination for Best Lead Actress in a Musical, Barellies owns the role as if she wrote it for herself.
Well, she did write the music and lyrics for the show.
Barellies brings the right amount of vulnerability and lightheartedness to the character, giving the audience a reason to root for Jenna to get the life she wants. Although Barellies is known for being a pop singer, her vocals are a powerhouse force, filling the entire stage even when she’s performing a solo. After every song, the entire theater was full of cheers and applause and it was well deserved.
Chris Diamantopoulos also joined the production on March 31 as Dr. Pomatter. His chemistry with Barellies makes you actually root for their affair to succeed. The emotional turning point for both characters is “You Matter to Me,” which is a standout moment in the show.
An under-appreciated member of the cast would be Christopher Fitzgerald, who has starred as Ogie since the show’s opening and was also nominated for a Tony award for the role. His comedic timing is the best out of any cast member, and the eccentric personality of Ogie shines brightly. “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” is the most underrated song on the soundtrack and Fitzgerald’s performance of the song is the funniest moment of the entire show.
One of the characters whose main purpose was to offer some comedic relief, Becky, played by Charity Angél Dawson, felt out of place. Dawson has a powerful voice and played the character well, but the character just didn’t belong with the rest of the show. Her comments felt forced, as if the writer added them in to try and make the show funnier.
The lyrical styling of Barellies worked well for such a simple story. Compared to many shows on Broadway today, “Waitress” is a much smaller production, yet the soundtrack makes the show feel so much bigger than it is.
The highlight track is Jenna’s ballad, “She Used to Be Mine.” Bringing lyrics such as “Sometimes life just slips in through a back door/And carves out a person and makes you believe it’s all true.” “She Used to Be Mine” is a song that so many can connect to, even if they don’t relate to Jenna’s struggle personally.
“Everything Changes” is the closing number, but it feels like it just closes up Jenna’s feelings about her pregnancy and doesn’t wrap up the rest of the story. Though that was a large part of her character arc, it doesn’t address any other issues during the show, such as her giving up her dreams of winning the pie-baking competition, or how she left her husband minutes after giving birth.
A musical can only be good if the script, or book, matches the music. Jessie Nelson brings the small town feel to the Broadway stage, mixing comedy with a whole serving of heartfelt and emotional dialogue. You can see what goes on in Joe’s Pie Diner every day as if you’re sitting right there in the booth.
Director Diane Paulus brings together Barellies’ music, Nelson’s book and her own creative image, bringing the diner to life on the stage of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Paulus uses stark lighting, realistic sets, simplistic costumes and a whole lot of flour and sugar to bring the story to life. The small town life has never felt bigger than it does while watching this show.
Take some heartfelt performances, personal lyrics, an emotional story and one amazing director, and you’ve baked yourself up a musical that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.