This year sees a wave of Broadway shows coming to the West End, with Come From Away currently melting hearts at the Phoenix Theatre, and Dear Evan Hansen already a box office hit ahead of its autumn opening. After entertaining audiences in New York since 2015 Waitress finally lands on our shores, but will it be a sweet success or a half-baked disaster? (sorry)
Based on the 2007 film by the late Adrienne Shelley, Waitress, as the title suggests, tells the story of a waitress Jenna (Katharine McPhee), who dreams of escaping her abusive husband Earl (Peter Hannah). She spends her days working at Joe‘s Diner alongside her friends, Becky (Marisha Wallace) and Dawn (Laura Baldwin), and inventing new pies, something she used to do with her mother when things got tough at home. When she discovers she’s pregnant, Jenna meets her new gynaecologist, Jim Pottomater and the two of them embark on an illicit affair. Meanwhile, after she hears of an upcoming pie-baking contest with a tempting cash prize, Jenna dreams of winning big and finding a way out of her current life.
Waitress is the first show in the West End to boast a female lead creative team, with Diane Paulus taking the helm as director. Scriptwriter Jessie Nelson has created a beautiful story of female friendship, and a reminder that all you really need in life are good friends and pie. While the ending is tied up a little too quickly to be realistic and some of the male characters’ motivations are questionable, it makes a change to see genuinely flawed characters on stage, and being drawn them despite their imperfections. What makes Waitress so special is that it stirs up a wealth of emotions – it’s comedy gold and packed full of hilarious moments, while at other times it’s incredibly moving. The script is complemented by Sara Bareilles’ beautiful music, from amusing, catchy numbers Including The Negative (about, you’ve guessed it, a pregnancy test), and Club Knocked Up; to the haunting She Used to Be Mine, arguably one of the best songs from a musical in recent years. Meanwhile Lorin Latarro’s smooth and artful choreography is a joy to watch and staggering at times in terms of how the cast move so seamlessly without dropping any pies! Scott Pask’s set also impresses, bringing to life an American diner, with a selection of mouthwatering pies displayed at both sides of the stage; and Jenna’s home with Earl, a darker, more claustrophobic setting.
There was some disapproval when ex-America Idol star Katharine McPhee was first announced as reprising her Broadway role here as Jenna, with some complaining that the part should have been given to a UK performer. McPhee silences her critics with a belting and emotive performance, her heart-wrenching rendition of She Used to Be Mine one of the standout moments of the show. She receives strong support from Marisha Wallace as Becky, strong-willed, witty and with a spectacular voice to boot; and Laura Baldwin, who excels as the lovable, ditsy Dawn (her sweet-voiced rendition of When He Sees Me is guaranteed to stay in your head for days). The three share a believable and touching chemistry – it’s sugar, flour and butter baked up into a beautiful friendship. The women own the show, with Kelly Agbowu also providing belly laughs aplenty as Doctor Pottomer’s assistant with attitude, Nurse Norma. Elsewhere David Hunter provides the visual laughs as the awkward, gangly doctor Jim, and he’s the ideal equal to McPhee. Their harmonies pair wonderfully, and they bounce well off one another to create some memorable moments, with the salacious Bad Idea (Reprise) leaving the audience rolling in the aisles. Jack McBrayer steals every scene he’s in as Ogie, Dawn’s geeky (if a little creepy at first) love interest. While it’s clear he’s not the strongest in the vocal department he more than makes up for it with hilarity and he’s paired perfectly with Laura Baldwin – their Civil War re-enactment was side-splittingly unforgettable and certainly not something you’d see in Hamilton.
Waitress is a warm, touching musical with wonderful performances, a strong message about female empowerment and the perfect combination of heartfelt and hilarity all whisked up into a treat sweet enough to make Mary Berry proud.
Photo credit: Johan Persson