I must admit that the musical Waitress has slipped under my radar and so when it came to The Grand I approached it blind. I had a sneaky peek at the pre-show publicity and was delighted to find that it was about a woman whose has been gifted with the ability to create pies.
After all the musicals about the formation of 50s and 60s pop groups and the Lord Lloyd-Webber productions, I thought it was high time someone penned a two-hour celebration of my favourite comfort food. I was looking forward to hearing songs about beef and ale, steak and kidney with a big finale blockbuster tune extolling the virtues of a pork growler with piccalilli. Sadly, it was not to be. Rather than being written by blokes from the North of England, it was penned by an American woman, Sara Bareilles from a book by Jessie Nelson, and based on a film by Adrienne Shelly. This meant that the only crust fillings about to feature would be pecan, boysenberry and pumpkin. Actually, I love pumpkin pie so not a huge disappointment.
The story centres around Jenna, played by Lucie Jones, who, unsurprisingly, is a waitress in a diner specialising in pies. Not only is she a waitress but she also does the baking, producing everything the diner sells, including a newly created variety each day. Her two fellow waitresses, Becky, played by Sandra Marvin, and Dawn, Evelyn Hoskins, have a great rapport, the former having a disastrous love life, whilst the latter has no love life at all. Jemma is married to an abusive husband who takes everything she earns to spend on drinking with his pals at the bar, so the three women have to rely on each other for comfort.
The story begins with Jemma almost throwing up whilst serving Joe, who we learn is the owner of the diner although only visits it for breakfast. She takes a pregnancy test which proves positive and the plot thickens like double cream.
Being unhappy at home Jemma is swept off her feet by a new doctor, Dr Pomatter, played by Matt Jay-Willis, who comes to town and is assigned to her case. But, let’s face it, what girl wouldn’t go overboard for a handsome singing and dancing gynaecologist, every musical should have one. He too is married so the relationship is pretty complex, not to say dangerous.
Joe, played by Michael Starke, wearing a pale suit and sporting a white goatee beard looking as though he should be selling fried chicken rather than sweet stuff, is so impressed by Jenna’s pie making skills that he tells her of a baking competition – no, not THAT one – in Springfield even though he risks losing her services should she win. She sees this as a way to free herself from her husband, Earl – Tamlyn Henderson – so she begins to conceal money around the house rather than cough every penny up to him, so she can afford to go and take part.
Meanwhile Becky is having a fling with manager Cal, Christopher D. Hunt, and Dawn has met her soulmate, the geeky Ogie, played by George Crawford, on a dating site. They both have a passion for re-enacting battles from the American War of Independence, and eventually for each other.
Needless to say, things reach a head when Earl discovers Jenna’s stash of money and the denouement occurs when she has the baby. It is not what you think to might be so there is a very satisfying, not to say uplifting, end to the show.
Waitress is as slick a production as you are ever likely to see. The set takes up the whole stage when it is the diner, but a clever use of black curtains which seamlessly appear from the top and side, makes the viewing range so much smaller and more intimate, almost like a photograph, in others, such as Earl and Jenna’s front room. The music is provided by a superb band who were situated on the side of the stage, their range from heavy rock to the gentle backing of the more plaintive songs was impeccable.
The ensemble players who were diners, bakers, wedding guests and a whole lot more were brilliant, as they needed to be with a lot of intricate dancing and scene-shifting to be done, often at the same time.
When it comes to the main characters the chemistry between them was perfect. Jenna and Becky, the more worldly wise of the waitresses, looking after Dawn, the innocent young one and helping her through her initial dates with Ogie whilst simultaneously dealing with their own problems.
The male parts, if you will excuse the term, were disparate with the menacing Earl, who was so insecure he begged of Jenna not to love the baby more than she loved him, Cal, the macho manager who crumbled when faced down by Becky, the avuncular Joe who was a cranky old man with a heart of gold and Ogie, the geek.
To say that the subject matter ranged between domestic violence, unwanted pregnancy, extra-marital affairs, not to mention the unavoidable references to intimate female body parts, it was amazingly upbeat and often hilarious. The singing was note perfect by all concerned and the emotion injected into the songs, palpable. Lucy Jones obviously got the big numbers and her final solo performance, She Used To Be Mine, quite rightly brought the house down. I have just watched it on YouTube, performed by the writer, and it had me in tears again.
The transformation of Dawn, from shrinking violet to confident young woman was superbly done as was the brassiness of Becky taking no lip from anyone. I can say from personal experience that Joe’s grumpy git was totally accurate, he even got his own song Take It From An Old Man and sang it as if knowing that no one would. Matt Jay-Willis sensitively showed the two conflicting emotions of having an affair, as did Lucie Jones. The main comedy of the evening was provided by George Crawford who milked the part of Ogie to its limits but still stayed on the right side of farce. His slender physique enabled him to portray the gawky geek to a tee, as well as having the perfect self-conscious walk and compensatory over the top dance moves which had the audience in hysterics.
I would love to name all of the creatives individually but there are so many, safe to say that, under the direction of Diane Paulus, each one excelled.
I am sure that you have got the drift here but just in case, I heartily recommend that you get a ticket if you can as I had the most wonderful evening at The Grand watching Waitress. If you don’t take my advice I hope that you get your just desserts!
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Feature photograph, Lucy Jones as Jenna by Johan Persson