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Broadway musical WAITRESS hits London’s West End:
On the eve of International Women’s Day, it was refreshing to see WAITRESS, a musical with such a strong all-female-led creative team light up the West End stage. Along with the writer, director, composer, musical director and choreographer, the show also boasts three women in its lead roles. Astonishingly this combination is a first, both on Broadway and here in London’s West End… and about time too!
Waitress is based on the 2007 film, written and directed by the talented Adrienne Shelly, who was tragically murdered before its release. Here the book is written by Jessie Nelson; it is both witty and drives a great – if quirky – narrative, complemented by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles’s ‘tell ‘em how is’ pop songs; wonderfully catchy, punchy and well-constructed.
Diane Paulus’s sassy production has been much anticipated since opening on Broadway in 2016, and I wasn’t disappointed by this bitter-sweet tale – with its strong emphasis on sugar, flour and butter, and baking fluffy, sweet and scrumptious pies… (You can even buy your own in the foyer!)
The opening number ‘What’s Inside’ gives us a taste of what’s to come with the musical Waitress.
Set in Joe’s Pie Diner, we are introduced to three very different women, all working the tables. Our protagonist is Jenna, played with a perfect combination of tenderness and spirit by American Idol runner-up Katherine McPhee, whose rousing voice is pure and delicious. Jenna dreams up recipes and makes fantastical pies which depict both her mood and predicament – ‘Betrayed-By-My-Eggs Pie’, and Life’s Just Peachy Keen’ are two such. You get the picture!
Jenna is living in an abusive marriage to the suitably slothful Earl (played with great conviction by Peter Hannah) when she finds out she is pregnant – cue ‘Club Knocked Up’. Jenna turns to her loyal fellow waitresses/ girlfriends for advice and support: the timid and squeaky Dawn (an excellent Laura Balwin) who is totally green to the world of dating, and the feisty Becky, played by Marisha Wallace, who has a rich and rollickingly-good voice. (Wallace recently made her West End debut playing Effie White in Dreamgirls). Dawn finds love in the form of comically nerdy Ogie, brilliantly delivered by Jack McBrayer (of 30 Rock fame), whilst Becky’s passions lead her from her husband to her kitchen – and straight into the arms of crotchety Joe (Shaun Prendergast).
Disillusioned Jenna falls for her somewhat unscrupulous, yet dishy, married gynaecologist Dr Pomatter (loveably played David Hunter) whose kind attentions are a welcome distraction and give her all the resolve she needs to make better decisions and take her life into her own hands. A couple of touching duets in the musical include ‘It only Takes a Taste’ and ‘You Matter to Me’ (written by Bareilles and Jason Miraz), and Jenna and the doctors’ encounters are amusing and genuinely affecting. I especially liked Jenna’s rendition is of ‘She Used to Be Mine’, which was moving and vocally rich.
Remarkably, Jenna’s journey of realisation is neither too sweet nor sickly, managing to avoid giving moralistic advice whilst tackling a woman’s journey with humour and sensitivity. The joy of this warm-hearted and assured production is that it’s never overly slick or glossy, and Lorin Latarro’s choreography adds just the right touch.
Tentative in parts, charged and stormy in others, Waitress dishes up a wonderful musical feast. There’s nothing half-baked about this marvellous confection. With its spoonful of caustic humour, a large dollop of passion, and lashings of glorious talent, Waitress has a sure-fire recipe for success.
Waitress at the Adelphi Theatre until Oct 19 2019
Strand, London WC2R 0NS
RUNNING TIME 2 hrs 35 minutes (including interval)
BOX OFFICE 020 7087 7753
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