Broadway review: Waitress (4/5/19)

posted by Jeff | Saturday, April 13, 2019, 5:14 PM | comments: 0

It was just over a year ago that we saw Waitress on the national tour in Orlando. Because I was listening to the cast recording on the plane and such when we went to New York right after, I kind of associated it with that trip. I loved it so much that I contemplated seeing it a second time, on the last night of its Orlando run, but didn't. I've regretted it since then, and wanted to see it again if we went back to New York. We did, so we did.

I wrote short reviews about all of the shows last season, but here's the important part:

I don't remember much about the film version, but the plot is about a waitress who makes epic pies while married to an abusive jackass that she won't leave. She and the other characters make a lot of fairly terrible decisions about their personal lives, but the show is ultimately about finding the people who really value you, and seeing that change is possible if you're open to it. It's a fairly straight forward journey, starting with the daily routine of sameness, and realizing a better life. We've all made that journey in some way, I'm sure.

The music is what makes it special, of course, and it's amazing that Sara Bareilles could write such a strikingly good series of songs, lyrically and musically. Her own music has always been good, and she's a storyteller for sure, I just can't believe how well those skills translated to an entire musical. The touring cast that we saw, led by Desi Oakley, was really outstanding. I remember sitting there during "She Used To Be Mine," struck by how sad it was, how trapped she felt.

I wouldn't change much about that review, except to say that the show is a lot funnier than I remember, with a lot more comic humping than I remember. Pie baking is used as a metaphor for all of life's challenges, like mourning your mother, getting pregnant and sleeping with your doctor.

The story at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre is that they've been rotating in a cast of varying degrees of celebrity, which seems like a brilliant idea except when it might not be. Al Roker played Joe at one point, and if the package they ran on NBC is any indication, he probably wasn't very good and was taking the work of someone better. On the day we went, Joey McIntrye, yeah, from New Kids On The Block, was in his last week as Dr. Pommater. Eddie Jemison, who I know best as "Livingston" in the Oceans movies, played Ogie. That's notable because he played that role in the non-musical movie that inspired the show. Interestingly, Lenne Klingaman played Dawn, while Larry Marshall played Joe, both were on the national tour that we saw.

Good news, Joey has "the right stuff" (sorry, couldn't help it). Of course he can sing, but he belongs on stage. His comic timing and ability to be awkward is pretty great. Jemison, on the other hand, damn near stole the show. I mean, who knew? His portrayal of Ogie makes you want to shake Dawn and take him right away, whereas the guy on the national tour came off more stalker like.

As I indicated last year, "She Used To Be Mine" is the emotional center of the show. It's one of the most intense songs of any show that I've seen. It's too important to the story arc to phone in, and the actress playing Jenna has to give it all to make it work. Blame Jessie Mueller on the original cast recording, but she set a standard. Shoshana Bean has that role now, and she's the new standard. (See video below, which was posted just a few days ago.) Her performance of that show made some people cry and prompted others to give her a standing ovation, in the middle of the show. I've never seen anything like it. The material is extraordinary to begin with, but she takes it to a new level, and I imagine she does it every night.

The seriousness of abusive relationships and feeling trapped in a world you didn't want are serious subjects, but the show ends with such joy. You can feel it as soon as "Everything Changes" starts, and it carries through to the curtain call. A lot of shows based on existing IP feel like ephemeral novelties, while others are more valuable than the things that inspired them. This musical is in the latter category.

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