MusicalNorth WestReview

Waitress – Liverpool Empire Theatre

Reviewer: Emilia Lodge

Book: Jessie Nelson

Music & Lyrics: Sara Bareilles

Director: Diane Paulus

Based on the 2007 film, Waitress tells the story of Jenna (Chelsea Halfpenny), as she searches for the courage to leave her loveless marriage. Jenna turns to baking as her escape from reality, creating fantastical pies in the hopes of it being her ticket to independence. Providing a different form of escape is the new doctor in town, who adds to Jenna’s growing list of moral dilemmas. Stir in to this a tablespoon of Sara Bareilles’ brilliant score, a sprinkling of comedy and a dollop of tenderness and you have the ingredients for a brilliant night at the theatre.

Chelsea Halfpenny started her career on hit teen drama, Byker Grove, before going on to roles in Emmerdale and Casualty. Halfpenny seems at home on the stage, creating a character with wit, passion and ambition that is then extinguished in the presence of her husband, Earl (Tamlyn Henderson). Her heart-breaking ballad, She Used To Be Mine, is a highly anticipated number in the show and Halfpenny’s voice soars as she captures Jenna’s desperation to return to the person she used to be. In scenes between Jenna and Earl, Halfpenny’s performance evokes sympathy as Jenna feels trapped in their relationship. Whilst Henderson has moments of showing Earl’s nasty side, the only critique would be that this could have been pushed even further in the delivery of certain lines to demonstrate why Jenna feels so desperate to leave him.

Temptation comes in the form of the nervous yet charismatic Dr. Pomatter, played by Matt Jay-Willis, most well known for being a member of the band Busted. Despite his pop background, Willis has had much success in theatre, playing lead roles in Wicked, Little Shop of Horrors and Footloose, and it is clear to see why in his performance. His chemistry with Halfpenny is believable and provides a complete contrast to the coldness of Earl. His comedic timing is brilliant and the audience can’t help being hopeful for the life he could potentially offer Jenna. 

Jenna is supported along the way by best friends Becky (Wendy Mae Brown) and Dawn (Evelyn Hoskins), both of which give hilarious, standout performances. As the trio each attempt to navigate their love lives in the pursuit of happiness, a particularly memorable moment is delivered by Dawn’s doting suitor, Ogie, played by George Crawford. With awkward and adorable charm, his song Never Ever Getting Rid of Me went down a treat with the audience, who couldn’t help get swept up by his infectious energy. Dawn and Ogie’s relationship is all things sweet and the two actors bounce brilliantly off each other.

Another highlight comes from the ensemble and the unique choreography by Lorin Latarro. The abstract, physical theatre style of their movement allows them to almost become a part of the set at times, handing objects to Jenna and creating synchronised motifs that give the impression that Jenna has some unseen, invisible force supporting her in her journey to freedom. This is very fitting, given the references to Jenna’s late mother, presenting the heart-warming possibility that she is present and guiding Jenna in reclaiming her own life, dreams and happiness.

With not one weak link in this cast, you are guaranteed to leave the theatre feeling joyous, hopeful, inspired, and perhaps a little hungry!

Runs until 14 May

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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