Pop-rock singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles has succeeded where several of her Billboard chart colleagues have failed – she has written the score for a musical that is not only catchy and tuneful, but also serves the storytelling in a coherent and cogent way. Waitress tells the story of Jenna (the ever-luminous Jessie Mueller), a waitress and expert pie maker in a small southern town, who married far too young to a man she doesn’t love. Can she escape him, and if so, how?
Both the character of Jenna and Bareilles’s rich and zesty songs are terrific vehicles for Mueller’s detailed, heart-felt acting and liquid gold voice. Her Jenna feels incredibly approachable – she feels like an earth mother in spite of the many things holding her down. And there are few Broadway stars who can match the depth of feeling she brings to her singing.
The generous spirit of Waitress allows for more than one terrific performance, and the show’s other marvel is Christopher Fitzgerald as Ogie, a highly eccentric chap in love with one of Jenna’s fellow waitresses. His big number “Never Getting Rid of Me” is utterly amazing – he communicates his character’s awkwardness and quirkiness with dancing, singing and acting that has to be called virtuoso. Stunning.
Jessie Nelson’s book goes bright and big, which is what’s called for in telling this largely joyous story. Even though director Diane Paulus – who usually favors heightened theatricality – delivers one of her most “realistic” productions to date, Waitress makes it clear that she is well aware of the realities of 2016 Broadway, where boldness is rewarded. All in all, one of the most engaging and fun musicals of the season. Recommended.
For tickets, click here.
To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.