Thursday, September 13, 2018

“Waitress” – A Little Sour with the Sweet Bakes Up Nicely

Charity Angel Dawson, Desi Oakley, Lenne Klingaman in Waitress (Joan Marcus)

Paramount Theatre
Through September 16, 2018

Waitress, a small indie film by Adrienne Shelly, about a pie-making waitress who is unhappily pregnant with her abusive husband, was turned into a celebrated musical by Sara Bareilles (music and lyrics) and Jessie Nelson (book), which debuted in 2015 and moved to Broadway in 2016. Part of the particular legacy of that musical is that it was also directed and choreographed by women, making it the only Broadway musical in history to have such a plethora female energy.

It’s essentially billed as a comedy, but there are a lot of dark parts to it, as well. Though Jenna, the waitress, and Earl, her ne’er-do-well husband are said to have begun their relationship as teenagers, Earl has clearly become more dangerous and abusive. The musical also makes it clear that Jenna’s mother and father were immersed in an abusive situation that hits at the heart.

A main plot point has to do with infidelity, though everyone who engages in that seems to have “good reasons” for doing so. The musical seems to track very closely to the movie. Because the characters are “flawed,” it’s supposed to make the audience appreciate that people make mistakes in life and life is a struggle to get right.

There are definitely some very fun aspects to the musical, especially the characters of Dawn (here played by Lenne Klingaman) and Ogie or “OKC with a bullet” (here played by Jeremy Morse). In fact, the choreography for Morse’s intro song, Never Ever Getting Rid of Me, is laugh out loud funny – with some simply amazing gymnastic dance moves that Morse nails perfectly! What’s more, that song picks up a somewhat slow-to-develop first act and suddenly makes the whole show more worthwhile. Dawn and Ogie are the odd, awkward people who have such a hard time finding love – until they meet their perfectly odd match.

The basic story is that pregnant Jenna (here played by powerhouse singer Desi Oakley) bakes pies for her local breakfast spot and has developed that skill into such mouthwatering goodness that she’s encouraged to enter a pie-making contest by the curmudgeonly shop owner, Joe (a good-hearted Larry Marshall). Enticed by the prize money, Jenna dreams of leaving her husband.

Complication ensues when she entangles herself with the new obstetrician (Bryan Fenkart), who is married as well. We certainly understand why Jenna would be so impulsive, but we really are not given much information to explain the doctor. Fenkart plays “hapless” fairly well, but has little chemistry with Oakley and is underwhelming as a tour lead, particularly vocally.

Besides waitress Dawn, Jenna also has waitress Becky (power-voiced Charity Angel Dawson) to support her. A lovely aspect of the show is that real dough is kneaded on stage, and there is a sense of real baking taking place.

The national tour is here through Sunday. The difficulty of such an intimate show being done in such a large tour-hosting theater is that sometimes a show has difficulty matching the space. The adroitly changing set swings the small folk-rock band on and off stage, using the musicians as part of the scenery and ambiance to lovely effect. But in a smaller Broadway theater, apparently the audience can smell real pies baking – something the Paramount can’t possibly match.

At almost two and a half hours, the musical is a bit too long, with a few too many slow, sad songs. It definitely picks up and is more engaging when it comes to some of the funny songs and lighter moments. However balladic, Bareilles’ songs are generally accessible, musically, which is good. I wish there were something a little more ear-wormy to catch onto and sing on the way home.

The feel-good ending has Jenna taking control of her life more significantly, perhaps as an example to women stuck in similar situations all across the country. Unfortunately, those women are probably not going to see a Broadway show to give them hope. Maybe they can see the movie.

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