Waitress at the Adelphi Theatre
The extent to which Waitress commits to pies is as impressive as it is truly absurd. Towering pie cabinets flank the stage, their sugary smell floods the foyer. Every song is a masterclass in pie puns and metaphors.
Smalltown USA. Jenna (Katherine McPhee) is the local piestro, wowing customers with her tasty pastries, lacking the confidence to take it any further. But pies aren’t the only thing that she’s cooking up. Unexpectedly, unintentionally she has a bun baking in her oven, a problem given her drunken, abusive husband. Resigned to keeping the baby, Jenna visits the town’s new doc (the excellent David Hunter; think if Hugh Grant and Stephen Merchant bred a romantic lead), only to encounter the kind of connection she’s never felt before…
Let’s get the production’s problems out of the way up front. The ending is abrupt and predictable, it takes a while to fully reveal itself, and the treatment of its black characters – regardless of how well-performed – errs on the side of stereotype. And yet, it’s as moreish as a piece of one of Jenna’s deep-dish wonders.
Waitress is a lot sillier and dirtier than it initially lets on; these elements really come to the fore after the introduction of Jack McBrayer’s Ogie late in the first half. Alongside Marisha Wallace’s Becky and Laura Baldwin’s Dawn, the 30 Rock star is a delight, the three actors providing the comedic bedrock of what is a very funny musical.
Surrounded by so many big performances, there is a danger that McPhee’s quieter offering might get lost in the shuffle. Her Jenna is kind and tired, scared of what might happen as much as what might not; you get the sense that her infidelity is seriously out of character, or at least is out of character for who she has settled into being. All of this crystallises beautifully in She Used to Be Mine, songwriter Sara Barreilles’s solo centrepiece that is assumedly already an audition-room favourite. Tingles.
It’s also where Diane Paulus’s direction and Scott Pask’s set are at their best. Though nicely designed, the production can feel cluttered, the constant rearranging of the bustling diner rather distracting. During McPhee’s standout moment – jeez does she have some pipes – things are far simpler; the oppressive black curtains that shrink the stage whenever Jenna is at home gradually lift, revealing blue sky and open road. It’s a typically American image, but no less alluring for it.
Waitress isn’t all smiles. The characters’ lives are messy and complicated, Jenna’s past and present history of abuse palpable. It’s the salt in the recipe that makes the eventual result even more appetising. The show’s crust might be a bit wonky, it’s filling a tad too sweet, but boy is it an irresistible slice of musical theatre.
Photo: Johan Persson
Waitress is at the Adelphi Theatre from 8th February until 9th October 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.