Waitress Serves Up Hearty Laughs and Tender Moments

Waitress Serves Up Hearty Laughs and Tender Moments

Sugar. Butter. Flour. When baking a pie, these are often among the first ingredients used to create something delicious and filling. It should come as no surprise that Waitress, the new Broadway musical based on the motion picture of the same name, begins that way as well. Small-town waitress Jenna Hunterson sings of sugar, butter, flour (“What’s Inside”) and takes us through the steps of making perfect pies that evoke the imperfect realities of her sheltered life.

When I heard they were adapting the late Adrienne Shelly’s heartfelt script for the stage, I was excited to see how Jenna’s empowering story of dealing with an unwanted pregnancy from an abusive relationship could be further explored with the addition of songs. Five-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles wrote a score that beautifully captures this cast of characters and their deepest desires, earning a Tony Award nomination for her music and lyrics.

Although Jenna spends a majority of her own story purposefully avoiding attention, Jessie Mueller shines in this role as brightly as Jenna deserves to. Mueller’s ability to make the audience feel absolutely everything that Jenna does is a gift. Her powerful solo “She Used to Be Mine,” a ballad to her unborn baby about the woman Jenna was before her situation robbed her of her identity (and how she needs to fight back), nearly stops the show with well deserved thunderous applause.

For as heartbreaking as Waitress is at times, this musical is also heavy on the humor. Jenna’s coworkers/best friends Becky (Keala Settle) and Dawn (Kimiko Glenn) provide not only moral support for their pregnant pal, but also have their own engaging stories. Settle commands the stage and her Becky rises to every challenge thrown her way. She has as much sass as she does heart and her “I Didn’t Plan It” highlights how sometimes making the best out of a given situation might not always be by doing the right thing, but you do what you can to get by. As Dawn, Glenn is both wonderfully insecure (“When He Sees Me”) and a force to be reckoned with. Her first big scene with Ogie (Christopher Fitzgerald) is a huge blessing for the audience because Fitzgerald’s performance of “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” is one of the funniest numbers I’ve ever seen on a Broadway stage. Only in musical theater can a character so utterly creepy (at first) manage to steal the hearts of everyone in the room.

It’s hard to pick a favorite song because they all move me in different ways, but while I was writing this up, I had “Bad Idea” playing on repeat. This driving duet between Jenna and her cute new (married) OB/GYN, Dr. Pomatter (Drew Gehling) is sinful and sweet, much like one of Jenna’s pies.

Waitress is a celebration of how friendship, confidence and love can help you turn your life around even when you think there is no way out of the deepest rut. It takes hard work, a lot of courage and a few wrong turns, but it’s worth it in the end. Good things in life aren’t just served to you on a plate, you know—except for a slice of Jenna’s pie at Joe’s Pie Diner.

Nominated for four Tony Awards including Best Musical, Waitress is delighting audiences eight times a week at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on W. 47th St.

Photo courtesy Jeremy Daniel

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