Waitress is a musical with two competing styles. The central character has a serious plot line concerning an abusive husband, an illicit affair, an unplanned pregnancy and unfulfilled ambitions. Not all things easily made light of, despite the promise of sweet fun implied by the setting being a pie-based diner offering all manner of, mainly sweet, delights. On the other hand, everyone else is out to make the most of every comic opportunity, be it in dialogue or physical comedy.
Somehow, though, this overall odd mix comes out right – like the blueberry and bacon pie which is one of the daily specials.
The story centres on Jenna (Sarah O’Connor, making her debut in the role as understudy), seeking a way out of her marriage and dead-end job as waitress and chief pie maker in Joe’s Pie Diner. O’Connor is convincing in her pain and frustration and a powerful singer, although I would have liked her to moderate her southern drawl to improve clarity of the lyrics. Her two waitress partners in crime are Becky (Marisha Wallace), who is all big, brash and full of attitude, and Dawn (Laura Baldwin) – nerdy, timid, slightly weird. These somewhat one dimensional sidekicks are nonetheless efficiently drawn and expertly played. Marisha Wallace knows just how to time a line. Laura Baldwin, reliably excellent as ever, has a riot with her part. This is only compounded by the arrival of her would-be sweetheart in the shape of the completely camp and over-the-top Jack McBrayer as Ogie. Between them they just about stop the show.
Jenna’s world is turned upside down by her pregnancy and, with it, the arrival of her hot doctor, Dr Pomatter. It turns out he is, frankly, a bit of a cad, but this is glossed over and we forgive him, largely thanks to David Hunter’s winning and humorous portrayal. Her husband, Earl, meanwhile, is brutish but we see him struggling to find a way to cope with his wife’s dreams and so Peter Hannah in the part avoids becoming a pantomime villain.
The music is in the folk-rock idiom with useful variety in the songs. This gives it a fresh and original sound – not your typical Broadway musical style at all. Combined with an outstanding backdrop and efficient set this all contributes to the homely, slightly remote feeling of a diner in the American south, untouched by 21st century values but warmed by home cooking and homely values. Ultimately it won me over completely!