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Waitress on Waitress

Written by Amy Corker

Waitress on Waitress:

The hit Broadway musical finally reaches London’s West End.

Sugar, butter, flour and a whole cup-full of emotions, Waitress: The Musical will make you laugh, cry and really make you want to go grab something sweet to eat. With the aromatic smell of baking pies surrounding you in the theatre, this performance is not just able to connect to its audience on an emotional level, but also truly engages the senses.

“this performance is not just able to connect to its audience on an emotional level, but also truly engages the senses.”

This musical explores the life of Jenna Hunterson, a waitress and excellent pie-maker, who is trapped in a loveless marriage and wants out. Her plans to escape her husband Earl are debunked when she falls pregnant, which is the last thing she wants or needs. However, Jenna meets her new gynaecologist, Dr. Jim Pomatter with whom, although he is also married, she starts an affair. As much as they both realise it is a “Bad Idea” as one of the songs within the musical denotes, they can’t seem to help themselves. Almost like the temptation to eat that next slice of pie…when you know you really shouldn’t.

Waitress itself is based on the 2007 film of the same name, directed by the late Adrienne Shelly, whose untimely and premature death caused the film to gain more traction. It has also been suggested that Jenna’s unwilling attitude towards having a child was also inspired by Shelly’s own experiences when pregnant and as a new mother. Though the film and musical are different in some ways, it does seem like the musical captures the essence of film and Shelly’s vision honourably.

The most obvious and key difference between the film and the musical are, the musical numbers. Sara Barellis’ lyrics and accompaniment captures the narrative from the film and mixes it into the scenes within the musical rather effortlessly, in a newer and different style. This takes the scenes and key moments from the film in an original direction with the help of the songs, therefore making Waitress: The Musical a stand-out piece of work. Yet, it still holds a metaphorical candle to Shelly’s Waitress in a gracious way.

Music is quintessential to the performance as it is predominantly what conveys to an audience the different emotions. This is not to say that the dialogue itself is not emotive in its own way, but the songs are what really drive the mood of this musical, from the fun and upbeat songs such as “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me”, to the emotional love songs in the form of “You Matter to Me” and also one of the most pivotal songs in the musical, “She Used to be Mine” the power ballad sung by Jenna that makes it tough for there not to be a dry eye in the theatre. This song is considerably the most powerful and emotional in the musical, with Jenna singing about how she is no longer the girl who she used to be but remembers them and how she used to be that person.

“Music is quintessential to the performance as it is predominantly what conveys to an audience the different emotions”

All of these different emotions, however, are in some parts only possible due to the skills of the cast members: Katherine McPhee takes on the role of Jenna with her other cast members David Hunter as Dr. Jim Pomatter, Marisha Wallace (Becky), Laura Baldwin (Dawn), Jack McBrayer (Ogie), Peter Hannah (Earl) and Shaun Prendergast (Old Joe). All of the additional swings/chorus and band members respectfully deserve the roaring applause that is delivered during the curtain call, as without the hard work of the cast, with their acting, singing and dancing skills, then the performance would not quite have the same effect.

This can also be said for the films cast which features Keri Russell as Jenna and Nathan Fillion as Pomatter, with Cheryl Hines as Becky, Adrienne Shelly herself as Dawn, Eddie Jemison as Ogie, Jeremy Sisto as Earl and Andy Griffith as Old Joe the film’s cast also captures and gives an emotional narrative that an audience obtains through the actors performances on screen, meaning the performers within the musical also needed to live up to this pre-existing emotive expectation.

However, it does have to be said that without a doubt, McPhee does a moving and impressive job as Jenna, paralleling Russell’s original performance in the film. Her aura about the stage was almost mesmerising, holding the audience’s attention and skilfully portraying this emotionally and physically compromised character of Jenna.

One thing that is interesting within this musical is how it handled the relationship of Jenna and her husband Earl. In the film, Earl is emotionally manipulative and does physically hurt Jenna. However, this is not the same in the musical, though an audience does see the emotional manipulation from Earl regarding his attitude towards Jenna being pregnant and more, you never see him physically hit her, however, he does grab her in a somewhat forceful manner. Whilst the musical does portray the emotional manipulation, it barely scratches the surface of the physical trauma that Jenna undergoes within her marriage, as seen in the film version. This may be because when Earl hits Jenna in the film there is emotional distance provided to the watching audience as they are seeing it on a screen.

On a personal note, for me, having watched and appreciated the film, watching this musical did truly meet my own expectations gained from Shelly’s film and more. I laughed, and I cried, it was sincerely an emotional and enjoyable experience and I highly recommend this musical to any theatre goer who might be just hearing about this musical now, or been debating whether to see it, definitely give it a go and experience “What Baking Can Do”.