Review: 'Waitress' Opens Up and Charms at The Fabulous Fox

Review: 'Waitress' Opens Up and Charms at The Fabulous Fox

‘Waitress’ continues this year's Fabulous Fox Theatre’s season. Based off of the film by Adrienne Shelley the story follows ‘Jenna’ a waitress who is known for her amazing pies. ‘Jenna’ finds herself struggling to be free from a cycle of abuse and finding the confidence within to grow. She discovers she is pregnant and ponders what that means to her future. Written by Grammy award winner Sara Bareilles the original score is charming, funny, and compelling.

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Review: "Waitress" Appeals to Your Senses

Joan Marcus

Joan Marcus

Jill Weinlein

  • Chief Los Angeles Theatre Critic

Immediately while walking into the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, I smelled the aroma of warm golden brown and flaky pie crust, with a sprinkle of cinnamon, burnt sugar and maybe hint of apple wafting through the air.

While taking a seat, I looked onstage and noticed the house curtain was a checkerboard of cherry pies. Appealing to my senses, I was excited to see the National Touring company of Waitress. The musical has been enjoying a two year run on Broadway, and now the all-female creative team has a National Touring Company in Hollywood until August 26, 2018.

The inspiration for Jessie Nelson’s book Waitress is based on the 2007 motion picture of the same name written by Adrienne Shelly. It’s also influenced by the writer’s experience serving customers food and coffee for 10 years before her writing, directing and producing career took off.

The Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus (Hair, Pippin, Finding Neverland) does her best with this lively musical production about Jenna (Desi Oakley), a waitress and expert pie maker. We learn Jenna’s loving departed mother taught her everything she knows about dreaming up new pie recipes. Living in a small town, Jenna has a sisterhood with two other waitresses Becky (Charity Angel Dawson) and Dawn (Lenne Klingaman). She dreams of a better life than waitressing, maybe even opening her own pie shop one day.

Suffering in an abusive and loveless marriage, when she discovers she is pregnant, she doesn’t want “Earls Baby Pie” baking in her oven. Earl (Nick Bailey) wants his wife home, barefoot and baking pies. He is an insecure “Promise me you won’t love that baby, more than you love me” jerk. Bailey probably is a nice guy in person, but he sure knows how to play a loser onstage.

Almost like a “Mamma Mia!” plot, her two girlfriends help lift up Jenna’s spirits throughout the nine months.

What I found disturbing was Jenna’s relationship with her OB/GYN Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart). I wonder if other Los Angelenos were sensitive to their forbidden relationship, especially with the current scandal between USC female students and one of the University’s OB/GYN physicians. I would have been uncomfortable seeing this with my teenage daughter.

Memorable characters include taciturn short order cook Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin) amusingly shouting out “Put some hustle in your bustle” to his servers. His playful banter with Jenna softens a little more after a little loving with Becky.

The actor who gave it his all and won over the audience in his first scene is the hilarious, charming twinkle toes Ogie (Jeremy Morse). He sings, dances and recites spontaneous poetry, that has us belly laughing and applauding while he woos shy Dawn throughout the show.

Grumpy Joe (Larry Marshall) is the owner of Joe’s Pie Diner. He sees Jenna’s goodness and offers fatherly advice. He is her biggest fan, enjoying a daily slice of her “27 different types of pies, including breakfast pies, fruit and cream pies, and a new pie each day.”

The talented ensemble includes Skyler Adams, Law Terrell Dunford, Patrick Dunn, James Hogan, David Hughey, Arica Jackson, Kyra Kennedy, Emily Koch, Maiesha McQueen, Gerianne Perez, Grace Stockdale.

Nadia DiGiallonardo the music supervisor and arranger along with Sara Bareilles and the Waitress Band perform onstage throughout the show. Bareilles is a 6-time Grammy nominated singer and songwriter. Graduating from hometown UCLA, she also is a New York Times bestselling author. Waitress is her first Broadway show. Her group of pop and theatre singers, multi-instrumentalists, writers and producers include Rich Mercurio, Lee Nadel, Yair Evnine, Rich Hinman and Jamie Edwards.

My three favorite dance scenes by choreography Lorin Latarro (Les Dangereuse Liasons, Waiting for Godot) include the pregnancy stick number, Ogie and Dawn’s courtship and the spoon skit.

Scenic designer Scott Pask replicates a diner with counter, stools, kitchen and dining area. Within minutes the stage is changed to a doctor’s office, blue-collar apartment, and hospital delivery room. Lighting designer Ken Billington enhances the set with the prettiest sunsets along the back curtain.

Even though the show offers 19 entertaining songs, not one was memorable enough to hum on the way home. Both Oakley and Dawson have the strongest singing Broadway voices, yet the only song I could recall while walking out of the theatre was the echo of “Sugar.”

Let me tell you right now if you go to dinner before the show, don’t order dessert. Out in the lobby during intermission are little mason jars filled with apple and salted caramel pie. A salivating line of people wait patiently to get their pie fix for $10.

Waitress does a good job appealing to all of your senses with the smell of pies being warmed up, pies being made and eaten with sublime bliss. I just felt it was a little corny at times and a little too long.

The performance schedule for WAITRESS is Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm, and Sunday at 1pm & 6:30pm. WAITRESS is recommended for ages 12 and up, especially with the OB/GYN office scenes. Tickets are available at www.HollywoodPantages.com/Waitress and www.Ticketmaster.com, by phone at (800) 982-2787 or in person at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre Box Office the it opens daily at 10am.

Broadway Review: 'Waitress'

Lindsay Timmington

OnStage New York Critic

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I was pretty sure I was going to hate Waitress when I bought my ticket. But I also knew that even if it fulfilled every Broadway musical stereotype, I’d still love it. You can’t have Adrienne Shelly, Sara Bareilles, Jesse Mueller and the first all female creative team in Broadway history behind a show and not love the production. 

And I did. I loved the Broadway adaptation of Adrienne Shelly’s sweet film. The production honors her movie, broadcasts her voice to a wider audience and pushes the theatrical community towards gender parity. There are so many things this show does well, but more than anything, there was an element of realness that proved a beautiful contrast to the make-believe and magic that is inherently theatre. 

In the world of theatrical props, 99% of the time any food used onstage is fake. In a show that revolves around food and baking, I applaud the production team for using real food not just in sparing moments but throughout the entire show. What they create in this, is the simplest of all theatrical magic. A breath of air into a palm filled with flour is suddenly a breathtaking moment, and one that’s repeated throughout the course of the show. Jenna [Jesse Mueller] softly crooning “Sugar, butter, flour” while she pours real butter, sugar and flour into a bowl, dreaming of new recipes and escaping from reality, is completely captivating. 

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Long ago, in a beginning acting class, my teacher stressed the importance of being able to focus all your energy into what could be perceived as a mundane activity. Watching someone perform what seems to be a simple task: stirring batter, pouring sugar or pressing a pie crust, can be the most interesting thing you’ve ever seen if the person performing the task has focused all their energy on the task. Mueller does this, and does it in such a way that some of my favorite moments in the show were indeed simply watching her move through the beginning moments of baking.  I am so impressed with the production and creative teams’ decision to invite the potential for failure onstage by using and handling real food throughout the course of the show. They deserve kudos and recognition for taking this chance because from an audience perspective it certainly pays off.

The choreography for the show, again falls into this category of realness. At first jarring to me, I quickly came to love it. It’s not standard fare, but felt like the magnification of the million minuscule physical moments we all have in a day. From the brushing away of bangs with a hand covered in flour to the lifting of a coffee cup to lips—these moments are simple, effective and beautifully real. The costume design too was simple, and real, and one of my favorite moments was when Mueller slipped an apron over her costume and turned around to reveal a tiny baby bump that hadn’t been there before. It was a lovely reinforcement of the idea that not everything has to be a big spectacle to be effective.

I’m a sucker for a pit orchestra or band onstage. One of my biggest problems with Broadway musicals is the separation (albeit sometimes born of necessity) of musicians and actors. When a production makes the choice to weave the musicians into the fabric of the performance, I’m over the moon. I didn’t initially know how they’d incorporate the onstage band into the story, but situating them at the upstage right corner of the stage, in what we can imagine to be a corner of Joe’s Diner, where the bulk of the action takes place is a brilliant, bold move. The band disperses as the scenes fade into other settings, but reappear regularly with the rest of the chorus. They’re as much a part of the show, and it felt like a very deliberate statement, a nod—we couldn’t do this without them—was being made by folding them into the show. 

As much as this is Mueller’s show, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the show-stealing fella who plays Ogie.  Christopher Fitzgerald trots onstage halfway through the first Act and brings down the house with “Never Getting Rid of Me” not because the song he sings is particularly great but because he sings the hell out of it and his comedic timing and physicality is some of the best I’ve ever seen. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard and was so disappointed when he retreated offstage. The rest of the cast is equally engaging, but Mueller and Fitzgerald stand out with their energy, physicality and commitment to character.

Let’s talk about Jesse Mueller. There’s no other actress on Broadway quite like her right now.  All she has to do is open her mouth and everything around her (even some terrific supporting cast members) fade into the background. She is so deeply invested in the soul of her character and inhabits the character of Jenna so deeply that she’ll break your heart with a single note, line or look. The significance she places on every line, every moment, every minute of the show is a testament to her unfaltering and admirable commitment. She’s unparalleled.  To see her in a role like this, particularly when she splits your heart open with the gorgeous “She Used to Be Mine” is something you don’t want to miss. 

I watched the movie again before I saw the show. Watch it before you go because the team does an exquisite job of honoring Shelly’s vision and the tiny moments of beauty lifted from the movie will make you cry with their meaningful placement. Shelly’s s personal story is heartbreaking. This young, talented filmmaker, actress, wife and mother died tragically, the victim of a horrific murder. To watch her in her film, where she plays the sweet, awkward Dawn, is to watch a woman whose career and life should have just been starting with the film and instead ended not long thereafter. The creative team stayed so true to her story that even though the film never brought me to tears, the broadway production sure did.

There’s a lot of Broadway convention in this show, and some of that is unavoidable, but I was rarely bothered. Even though it takes a lot to impress me when it comes to musicals, this one did. There’s so much to love in this show, but when I stood at the end it was for Adrienne Shelly, Jesse Mueller and the first all-female creative team in Broadway history. Not only is Waitress worth the wait, it’s also worth standing up for.