Back in 2018 visiting New York for a few days I happened to chance upon Waitress. The main reason for this being the theatre was 50 metres away from our hotel (honesty being the best policy I believe). That aside, it also had an extra bonus in that Sara Bareilles – the composer & lyricist was appearing as Jenna.
If you don’t know much about Waitress, it was a quirky little film from 2007, written by the late Adrienne Shelly and starred Keri Russell in the lead role. It was bought by Fox Searchlight pictures for about $6 million, and went on to make $16 million, winning plaudits along the way.
It tells the story of a young woman trapped in a little town, a loveless marriage and a dead-end job as a waitress, who falls into the next trap of an unwanted pregnancy. Escape beckons when she falls in love with her gynaecologist, but he hesitates to leave his practice and his wife.
It began in London earlier this year with Katharine McPhee (American Idol runner up) in the starring role.
Staging wise it’s like nothing you’ll have seen before. There’re not the effects like Wicked, or Frozen, but in its own way, the Adelphi Theatre is a small venue and that adds to the cosiness of the musical. It’s a little piece of small town USA in the heart of London town (plus the smells of pie resonate throughout the foyer and bar areas).
Musically, it feels right – with lyrics written and performed by Sara Bareilles. It has a country contemporary feel that oozes emotion with each note. Before seeing it in NY, I’d not heard any of the score, but once was enough and it left me wanting more – so much so, upon arriving back in the UK I bought the original cast album and Sara’s album of songs from the musical. And since it’s been a regular playlist in my car.
It did start a little rusty, but within a few numbers, you could feel the production spring to life.
As the lead, Katherine McPhee brings to the role something special. I’d go as far and say that her “She used to be mine” is the best I’ve heard in any musical production.
Marisha Wallace as Becky (a role once taken by Keala Settle – her that now is part of The Greatest Showman), together with Laura Baldwin as Dawn provide the perfect harmony and backing to the main story, and both excel with their own story arcs.
David Hunter as Dr Pomatter plays Jenna’s love interest with brilliant comic timing and voice, as does Jack McBrayer as Ogie for Dawn. His “Never ever getting rid of me” performance ranks as one of my favourite musical theatre moments, plus he’s the voice of Fx It Felix from WreckIt Ralph!
After seeing the NY production I did question whether would this work with UK audiences? The musical style is intrinsically American country – so would audiences in the UK buy into it? Simple answer, yes!
If you’re a fan of Sara Bareilles, the film Waitress, or a beautifully written musical that will send you away with a song in your heart, and the taste of pie in your belly, this is for you.
Review: Patrick Downes
NB. Katherine McPhee and Laura Baldwin will be ending their runs shortly, with Laura returning after the Summer.