Book by Jessie Nelson
Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles
Directed by Diane Paulus
Leicester Curve – Touring
Monday 24th January – Saturday 29th January 2022
They say you never know what happens behind closed doors, yet Waitress explores exactly that. The ‘masks’ people wear as they go about their work; their secrets, their self-sabotage, their dreams. What is it that keeps us from effecting change and traps us in a repeating cycle potentially to be passed down from generation to generation? If that sounds too ‘heavy’ for your tastes, then do not let me put you off. Waitress is a slice of theatrical lemon meringue pie, the sweet and the tart coming together to form a delicious life-affirming blend.
Welcome to ‘Joe’s Pie Diner’ where Jenna (tonight played by Aimée Fisher) is a waitress. Alongside the coffee and pie, she offers friendship, comfort and support to customers and co-workers alike. Jenna is also a piemaker extraordinaire; indeed, she bakes twenty-seven different varieties of pie every day, including her ‘Mermaid Marshmallow Pie,’ passed down to her from her mother. Her descriptions of the pies take the audience on flights of fancy as Jenna uses them to highlight ongoing situations and emotions, both literal and allegorical.
Alongside Jenna, we meet Becky (Sandra Marvin) and Dawn (Evelyn Hoskins), fellow waitresses who are also seeking out what’s missing in their lives. Stir in a ‘hot’ new doctor (Matt Jay-Willis) for added spice and Jenna’s life suddenly gets more complicated. Finding herself pregnant by her boorish, violent, and manipulative husband Earl (Tamlyn Henderson), Jenna is faced with making lifechanging decisions.
When the show opened in 2016, Waitress took the accolade of being the first all-female led production team on Broadway with book by Jessie Nelson, music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles and direction by Diane Paulus. As the show begins, I struggle to hear the lyrics of the opening number which is distracting and somewhat frustrating. However, Waitress soon wins me over with its warmth, charm, and beguiling folk-pop score.
This is a show about human frailty. Characters are flawed, morally compromised, and make seemingly bad choices, yet we still root for them because they represent the vulnerability in all of us. This is made most clear in the beautiful rendition of ‘She Used to be Mine,’ which Fisher delivers with control, empathy, and sensitivity.
There are multifarious changes in tone, mood and setting, but Paulus’s direction seamlessly segues along, aided by the capable ensemble. The latter beaver away in tightly choreographed unison. I particularly enjoy the elements of mime, often under-used in big ticket productions, but which shine through here. There are also extensive props used in the show. Characters and scenery are constantly on the move. Whether serving up coffee or baking pies, these secondary actions provide a sideshow of their own.
Although this is primarily Jenna’s story, we are offered glimpses into the lives of her friends. Marvin stands out for me. She delivers raucous one-liners, ripostes, and sarcasm with perfect comic timing, yet we know that Becky too is searching for a form of escape. We hear it as her voice soars, we see it in her expressive face, and we feel it as she lets slip her home life as a carer to her unseen husband.
Matt Jay-Willis is quite the revelation as Dr. Pomatter. His acting ability is shown clearly in his portrayal of the sweetly nervous, awkward gynaecologist. Furthermore, one of my favourite numbers is lovingly performed by Michael Starke as Joe. ‘Take it From an Old Man’ has a tenderness that brings a tear to my eye. All the necessary added ingredients are here, too. I cannot see the band from my seat, but they are playing with terrific verve and energy, led by Musical Director, Ellen Campbell.
Waitress is a musical that you could watch repeatedly and see or hear something new and different every time. As Becky tells us, ‘We’re all just looking for a little less crazy,’ so why not book tickets now and help yourself to a slice of ‘Live Your Life’ pie?
Age recommendation 13+
Running time – 2 hours 25 minutes (inc. interval)