Every pastry chef will confirm that baking the perfect pie requires a winning combination of ingredients and precise execution. Last night the Segerstrom Center for the Arts served an (almost) full house, a slice of Waitress the musical.
While I enjoyed the taste of Sara Bareillies’ music and lyrics––serving up her signature harmonies and sound––I don’t think that Waitress would take home the Blue Ribbon.
The play––it’s really more a story with musical interludes––about a young woman who finds escape through sugar, flour, and butter (Don’t we all?), whipped up a fun, but unmemorable musical theater moment.
The book, written by Jessie Nelson, based upon the indie film written by Adrienne Shelly, does an adequate job of providing lighthearted humor around a less-than-hilarious topic: domestic abuse.
Act I opens with a sugary montage setting up a typical “small town U.S.A” vibe. During the course of the longer-than-it-needed to be act, we learn that the lead of the show, Jenna portrayed by Christine Dwyer with charm and chops, is pregnant with a baby she doesn’t want, enduring an abusive relationship with a husband she isn’t in love with. Sadly, Jenna is no stranger to angry men. We learn from a series of flashback musical moments, that her mom––also a victim of home cooked altercations––teaches her to find paradise in a pie pan.
Act II is also lengthy. Exploring adultery in a flaky way and wrapping up a lot of loose plot points, a la mode. The texture and “slice of life” magic that transpired on the silver screen was not elevated in the musical reinvention. Where Sweeny Todd does an exceptional job of dealing with dark topics––Waitress could have reached for more meat in their pie.
The choreographer, Lorin Latarro, did a nice job of using pedestrian movement to motivate the musical numbers. Like a dash of cinnamon in an apple pie, she added the appropriate amount of subtle accents in the transitions and gave the ensemble and leads an opportunity to celebrate the playful orchestrations provided by Sara Bareilles and The Waitress Band.
Director, Diane Paulus whipped up a clean, comical performance from everyone in the cast despite the drawn out (lack) of drama. Jeremy Morse’s execution of “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” was deliciously, corky, clever, and committed. Likewise, Jessie Shelton’s wedge of “When He Sees Me” is savory and sweet; Latarro’s work shined in this scene, too.
The chemistry of the cast was there, especially from Maiesha McQueen (who knows how to deliver a line with sass), Christine Dwyer, and Jessie Shelton.
Overall, I think that Waitress was a tad over-baked and lacked the finesse that you’d expect from a Broadway musical. To put it in culinary terms: I was excepting a one-of-a-kind, tantalizing tart from Bouchon, and received a lukewarm, run-of-the-mill, cherry pie from Marie Callender’s.
For more information on the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, click here.
Featured image: Segerstrom Center for the Arts – Waitress – Charity Angel Dawson, Desi Oakley and Lenne Klingaman in the National Tour of WAITRESS – Photo by Joan Marcus