Review: Waitress. Nottingham Royal Concert Hall. (touring)

Date/s of run:  18th July – 23rd July, BSL performance 20th July, Audio Described and Captioned 21st July

Book by Jessie Nelson, based on motion picture written by Adrienne Shelly

Music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles

Directed by Diane Paulus

Is there anything more iconically American than a roadside diner serving coffee and pie? A field of dreams where customers and staff alike pause and reflect, fill a passing moment, make plans. So ‘Waitress’ was conceived by Adrienne Shelly, originally a film in 2007 and then adapted for the stage, to tell the story of an ‘ordinary’ woman finding her way through life.

Waitress is the perfect mix of ingredients creating an up-beat and quirky musical with a warm centre. Jenna Hunterson (Aimee Fisher), pie-baker extraordinaire, is searching for a way out of her loveless and abusive marriage. Jenna’s journey to self-awareness and moving on is supported by her waitress friends, the irrepressible Becky (Wendy Mae Brown) and the nerdy Dawn (Evelyn Hoskins).

Despite being a last-minute understudy when Chelsea Halfpenny was indisposed for this performance, Fisher is clearly very comfortable in the role. Jenna is pleasant and pliable in the beginning, but as she discovers more about herself and what she is capable of, becomes determined, and finally, rebellious. Fisher’s captivating vocals seem effortless, conveying the natural tone of the country-influenced musical, but rising to a powerhouse of sound in the hit song ‘She Used to Be Mine’. The close harmonies achieved with Brown and Hoskins, particularly in the acapella moments, are beautiful and encapsulate the friendship of the three.

Brown shows her impressive vocal prowess in ‘I Didn’t Plan It’, a rocky anthem to living life to the full. Her comedy moments with Cal, the manager, are instinctive and heartfelt. Hoskins demonstrates her superb range of both voice and character in the off-beat ‘When He Sees Me’, where we see her character’s temerity and passion in one.

Much of the humour in the show comes from Dr Pomatter (David Hunter) and his unexpected affair with Jenna. Hunter is goofily amiable, his tics and clumsiness endearing, and his fitness in achieving some of the physical comedy admirable! Hunter also has a wonderful singing voice, clear and natural, and is perfectly suited to this role.

Michael Starke as Joe, the elderly owner of the diner, is charming and acts as Jenna’s conscience. His rendition of ‘Take It from an Old Man’ is very touching.  Earl, the abusive husband, is played with scary accuracy by Tamlyn Henderson. His manipulative and threatening presence made me feel very uneasy in my seat some way from the stage.

The 6-piece band do a sterling job covering a huge variety of song styles in the show, another aspect which keeps it fresh and interesting, and become part of the diner in a very naturalistic way.

The fast pace, physical comedy and choreographed movements (Lorin Latarro) are unexpected elements in the show and help it feel modern and interesting, adding depth and a good dollop of humanity. The repeated, stylised movements of the ensemble, from drinking coffee to baking pies, reinforce the idea of the ‘everyman’ and of how we go through the paces of everyday without really thinking about it.

Waitress is a mouth-watering Magical Musical pie, unique and homely, and guaranteed to make you smile. Take a large slice, savour every mouthful, and reflect on your own dreams, because ‘It Only Takes a Taste’ to want the whole darned thing.

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