By Morgan Politzer
With the help of a little sugar, butter and flour, the cast of “Waitress” baked the perfect “feel-good-musical pie.”
Based on the 2007 movie of the same name, “Waitress” tells the story of Jenna (Desi Oakley), an unhappy waitress at Joe’s Pie Diner desperate to escape her small southern town and loveless, abusive marriage. After learning she is pregnant, Jenna finds herself falling for her handsome (and married) gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart), as he encourages her to pursue her dream of opening her own pie shop. With the help of her friends and fellow waitresses, the adorably dorky Dawn (Lenne Klingaman) and the tough-love-giving and sassy Becky (Charity Angél Dawson), Jenna must learn to trust her heart and never underestimate the power of a well-made pie.
On a whim, Jenna decides to enter a pie-baking contest that, should she win, would bestow upon her the somewhat unrealistic prize of $20,000, giving her a chance to escape from her husband and start a new life. Encouraging her along the way is the diner’s seemingly grouchy and cranky owner, Joe (Larry Marshall).
Oakley easily takes on the role as Jenna grapples with the struggles of creating a new life for herself while trying to balance work, forbidden romance and looming motherhood. She seamlessly pairs lovable stubbornness and sharp wit with intense vocals for a hysterically funny and tear-jerking performance.
The trials and tribulations of love and lust are gloriously played out on stage as Jenna and Dr. Pomatter develop a slightly neurotic, high energy romance that is a “pretty good bad idea,” drastically different from Jenna’s relationship with her terror of a husband Earl (Nick Bailey). In contrast to Fenkart’s sweet and goofy charm, Bailey creates a character we love to hate and hate to love as he saunters around the stage in a fabulously detestable backwards cap and plaid flannel shirt.
As the romance between Jenna and Dr. Pomatter grows more complicated, Jenna copes by inventing pies that help explain her thoughts on the situation, while Dawn develops a relationship of her own with the spectacularly awkward Ogie (Jeremy Morse), who is smitten with her the moment he meets her. While their relationship results in hilarity and quippish one-liners, Dawn is originally terrified to meet him, and asks the quintessential question of early relationships in her roller coaster of a song, “When He Sees Me.” With all-too-relatable lyrics, Klingaman manages to capture that painful ache of self-doubt, or perhaps even the worse, the fear of acceptance and letting someone in, with her high, bouncy ponytail and rationally irrational fears before their first date.
Composed by six time Grammy-nominee Sara Bareilles and directed by Diane Paulus, “Waitress” is the first Broadway musical with an all-female creative team. Bareilles’ pop music background is evident in her upbeat and catchy score, giving songs like “Bad Idea” melodies and riffs slightly different than that of traditional theater, playing to the subtle over-exaggeration of these characters and their personalities.
But it is Oakley’s performance of the climactic song “She Used to Be Mine” that fully showcases her talent as Jenna reflects on her life and the mess she is in. With lyrics and melodies that swell and then ebb away in graceful waves, Oakley brings your heart with her as Jenna gathers the strength to reinvent herself and find her inner voice.
Drawing on the original story and script written by the late Adrienne Shelly, book writer Jessie Nelson has created relatable and tangible characters for an inspiring and upbeat musical about female empowerment.
In the wake of rise of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, women’s voices have taken center stage, both in and out of the theater. As the conversation about sexual assault and harassment continues to grow and garner the attention it deserves, its message of zero-tolerance is also echoed in theater as Jenna learns to fight back against her abusive husband, effectively forcing audiences to face heavier subject matter.
While the musical is centered around the darker issues of abuse, unwanted pregnancy and infidelity, it does so with light feet, making it easier to swallow as audiences are encouraged not to dwell on “the negative,” but rather love, passion and the magic of a freshly-baked pie.
“Waitress” will run at the National Theatre in Washington D.C. through June 3.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Joan Marcus.
Morgan Politzer is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org.