New York City Theater
Brooks Atkinson Theater
Enter the theater and whiff the fragrance. Someone’s baking pies, of course, since “Waitress” is about, well, a waitress whose main talents rest with turning out those delicious desserts as salve to her domestic unhappiness. Even the act curtain depicts laced crusts sheltering cherry filling, while the proscenium is lined with goodies.
The thin new musical, which has fine performances and an open heart, is sisterhood personified. Book (Jessie Nelson), music and lyrics (Sara Bareilles), director (Diane Paulus) and leading roles (Jessie Mueller as Jenna, Keala Settle as Becky, Kimiko Glenn as Dawn) are all women. And it’s based on the late Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film of the same name.
Males are here to reflect the female journey. Jenna is having an affair with her gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter (a charmingly goofy Drew Gehling), as antidote to her mean, sad-sack husband (Nick Cordero, doing his best with an underwritten role). There’s kind diner customer Joe (the endearingly crusty Dakin Matthews) and diner owner Cal (the diamond in the rough Eric Anderson).
But the real break from all the estrogen is Ogie, played by the show-stopping Christopher Fitzgerald, whose “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” not only halts the proceedings near the end of Act One, but energizes the evening.
The show skims the surface of women dissatisfied with their lot, especially when they have to please the menfolk. Jenna has that abusive hubby; Becky is having an affair with Cal; Dawn seems destined for spinsterhood until Ogie comes along. And why is she suddenly desirable? Because she puts on makeup, re-does her hair style and, of course, removes her glasses,
Not much else happens. Jenna’s desserts make plot points as in “Betrayed by My Eggs Pie,” “White Knuckle Cream Pie” or “In the Dark Chocolate Pie.” The affair with the married doctor is punctuated by a comic nurse’s sudden entrances. Money is an issue.
It’s a modest enterprise, which Paulus directs with an eye to characterization. The music is tuneful but the lyrics are mostly indecipherable, thanks partly to southern accents, partly to the sound system. You can understand Fitzgerald’s every word, however – more power to the award-winning favorite.
It would all be forgettable if not for the performances. Mueller is incandescent with the gift of drawing audiences to her, making them want to see her succeed. Winsome and lovable, she is also independent and courageous, nowhere better than in her 11 o’clock number, “She Used to be Mine.”
The orchestra, onstage as so many are this season, adds juice. Not incidentally, you can buy a minuscule pie, with spoon, for a mere ten bucks. We didn’t succumb.
--David A. Rosenberg
May 3, 2016