Barry and Fran Weissler and Norton and Elayne Herrick
And the American Repertory Theater
Book by Jessie Nelson
Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles
Based on the motion picture by Adrienne Shelly
Keala Settle, Kimiko Glenn
With: Drew Gehling
Nick Cordero, Dakin Matthews, Eric Anderson
And an ensemble of singers/actors/dancers
Orchestrations by Sara Bareilles & The Waitress Band
Directed by Diane Paulus
Choreography by Lorin Latarro
Music Supervision and Arrangements by Nadia DiGiallonardo
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th Street
Scenic Design: Scott Pask
Costume Design: Suttirat Anne Larlarb
Lighting Design: Christopher Akerlind
Sound Design: Jonathan Deans
Wig & Makeup Design: Rachel Padula Shufelt & Jason Allen
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Production Management: Juniper Street Productions, Inc.
Casting: Patrick Goodwin, CSA
Production Stage Manager: Thomas J. Gates
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Company Manager: Eduardo M. Castro
Executive Producer: Alecia Parker
General Manager: BJ Holt
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 28, 2016
What a magnificent springtime show, the new musical starring Jessie Mueller, called Waitress, with the authentic aroma of homemade pies baking (in the oven next to the orchestra level seats). What an intrinsic experience, the evocation of my own mother baking apple and blueberry pies so long ago. The Brooks Atkinson may have debuted the first “aroma design” in a Broadway show. The late Adrienne Shelly wrote and starred (as Dawn) in the 2007 movie, just before it was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival. The setting is Joe’s Pie Diner, along a highway in the South, and Jenna (Ms. Mueller) serves as baker and waitress. She also announces her daily moods with personalized names for her newly concocted pies. Her local fans are many, with her daily tips robust. Unfortunately, Jenna’s abusive husband, Earl (a slithery Nick Cordero), grabs Jenna’s tips, as soon as she comes home, sometimes even sooner, making a trip to the diner for coffee, pie, and cash. Jenna’s big secret, that her co-workers easily discover, is an unwanted pregnancy. To escape Earl, before the baby begins to show, Jenna saves to enter a pie-baking contest, whose big money award could lead her to calmer horizons.
Although the dilemma is tragic, the show is mostly upbeat, nurturing, tuneful, and comedic, so the audience knows, from the aura, that “everything will be coming up roses”, to paraphrase a song from another show - Gypsy. Jenna’s co-workers at Joe’s Pie Diner are Becky (a course, comical Keala Settle), who’s trapped in her own loveless marriage with a homebound, elderly man, and Dawn (a spirited, nervous Kimiko Glenn), who tries a dating service just one time for a five-minute date, just to peek and scram. As it turns out, that peek-a-boo date was with none other than a guy named Ogie (the marvelous, captivating Christopher Fitzgerald), whose first act solo, “Never, Ever Getting Rid of Me, has him jumping on and off chairs and kicking up his heels like a ballet danseur. The secondary stage romance between Dawn and Ogie adds sparkling brilliance and brightness galore. So, the primary stage romance? That’s showcased when Jenna meets her new gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter (Drew Gehling), whose exam table becomes a temporary bed, after he tastes a bit of Jenna’s homemade pie, leading to their first duet, “It Only Takes a Taste”. Again, unfortunately for Jenna, the doctor is married to another doctor in residency, so her options are even more complicated.
A regular customer at the diner is its very owner, Joe (a fussy but paternal Dakin Matthews), who turns into the plot’s “deus ex machina” by end of show. And, Cal (a brusque Eric Anderson), the diner’s floor manager, who drives Jenna, Becky, and Dawn crazy, when they’re chatting, taking breaks, or having a mood issue, is soon seen “behind the cupboard”, so to speak, with none other than his nemesis, Becky. So, that’s the third stage romance woven into the storyline. Jessie Nelson’s book is perfect for those looking for sitcom drama and wit, with rhythm and the smell of cherries and crust, cooking in sweet syrup. Sara Bareilles’ music and lyrics are a mix of poignant and charming, like the diner’s early ensemble tune, “Opening Up”, and like Jenna’s showstopper, “She Used to be Mine”, which reminds the audience why we still dream about Ms. Mueller’s recent starring role in Beautiful: The Carol King Musical. Ms. Mueller’s vocal range is expansive, as is her acting talent. The final, lead character, Lulu, in an epilogue scene, is Jenna’s new little daughter, performed tonight with amazing confidence and skill by the child actress, Claire Keane.
Scott Pask’s diner design is inviting, colorful, and filled with stacks of baked pies, cooking ingredients, pots and pans, and a view beyond wide windows. His living room set, where Earl and Jenna are forced to co-exist, is alternately dreary and worn. Suttirat Anne Larlarb’s costumes include the pale blue and white waitress uniforms and Dr. Pomatter’s lab coat and Ivy attire. Christopher Akerlind’s lighting design adds warmth to the cozy diner’s interior, and Jonathan Deans’ sound design is especially effective in the sung solos, each filled with yearning and personality. Orchestrations and arrangements are ebullient, and Lorin Latarro’s choreography may be best remembered for Mr. Fitzgerald’s wild, mid-air fling, about the chairs and tables, coffees and pies. Diane Paulus, Director, keeps the show’s rhythm and pulse flowing smoothly, as the stage dramas and romances intersect with the sugar, butter, and flour. Kudos to Jessie Mueller, and kudos to Adrienne Shelly, without whom, there would not have been the film.