I saw Waitress in its West End incarnation and I must say seeing it again it’s grown on me hugely since then. The songs don’t have that instant appeal of an Oilver! score, but they have depth and heart and emotional impact which really rewards a second visit.
Cheslea Halfpenny stars as Jenna, a waitress and expert pie-maker who dreams of some happiness in her life. When a hot new doctor arrives in town, life gets complicated. With the support of her workmates Becky and Dawn, Jenna overcomes the challenges she faces and finds that laughter, love and friendship can provide the perfect recipe for happiness.
As Jenna, Chelsea Halfpenny is the emotional heart of the show. She deals with an abusive father, an abusive husband, and un-wanted pregnancy. It’s not an obviously showy part and has to remain serious and credible, leaving the humour to other characters, such as fellow waitresses at Joe’s Pie Cafe Becky (Wendy Mae Brown) and Dawn (Evelyn Hoskins) and Dr Pomatter (David Hunter). Halfpenny has terrific vocal range and power and we see the world through her eyes. When she opens up to us in ‘She Used to Be Mine’ the whole stage opens up too – with the narrow world of her home with the absusive Carl going widescreen in front of us.
The set is a joy in itself. With the band in place to one side, we see a beautiful yet desolate landscape through the windows of a classic American diner. It’s at once a homely and a lonely place. Clever use of flats and lighting brings the focus down from the wide open spaces into the most intimate of places.
There’s a great supporting cast. Wendy Mae Brown is suitably sassy as Becky, dealing with her own troubles at home with a sick husband. Evelyn Hoskins (an alumni of the second West End cast) is cute and funny as Dawn, an oddball character with no one else in her life until the arrival of Ogie, understudy Liam McHugh stepping in and stepping up in a comic triumph.
David Hunter is outstanding as Jenna’s love interest Dr Pomatter. His is an endearing and hilarious performance, full of great physical detail. He played the role in the original West End cast and his knowledge of what works for him and his character really shows.
The thankless role of Jenna’s no-good husband Earl goes convincingly to Tamlyn Henderson – another alumni from the West End cast. You may also not spot, as I initially didn’t, Michael Starke (you’ll know him best as Sinbad from Brookside) as diner owner Jo who also gets a delightful duet with Jenna.
Yet again this is a full-on West End musical right on the doorstep. High production values, slick stage management and to top it all, a clever and original score which results in an original and musical.
Waitress is at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford until Saturday 9 July 2022 and then continues on tour.