Book: Jessie Nelson
Music and Lyrics: Sara Bareilles
Director: Diane Paulus
After being forced to close permanently in London’s West End in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Waitress – the hit musical based on Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film of the same name – reopened in Wimbledon at the beginning of September 2021, with Milton Keynes being stop number five on a mammoth year-long tour of 37 theatres.
Waitress is a show much lauded for its all-female creative team, and that sense of female empowerment sits very much at the heart of the show itself. The plot focuses on Jenna (Lucie Jones), a waitress (and exquisite pie maker) working in a diner somewhere in the American south, alongside her friends Becky (Sandra Marvin) and Dawn (Evelyn Hoskins). In the show’s opening scenes, we discover that Jenna is pregnant (she comically names one of her pie creations Betrayed By My Eggs as a result) – and, a little later on, that her marriage to her husband Earl (Tamlyn Henderson) is abusive, mirroring that of her late mother’s. Jenna longs for a way out of her messy life, and this comes in the form of a pie contest in a neighbouring town. We see Jenna pin her hopes on the new life the prize money might buy her. What she doesn’t count on, however, is falling for her newly-appointed gynaecologist, Dr Pomatter (who is also married), played by Matt Jay-Willis, of Busted fame.
What makes Waitress such a joyful show to watch is that it immediately makes you care for the characters and their respective lives. The friendship between Jenna, Becky and Dawn is beautifully written, and the love the three women have for one another is evident right from the show’s opening. Hoskins is brilliant as the highly-strung and geeky Dawn, who longs for someone to share her eclectic interests with. Marvin provides much of the show’s comic relief as the no-nonsense Becky, alongside George Crawford as Ogie, Dawn’s equally nerdy love interest, whose performance of Never, Ever Gettin’ Rid of Me brings the house down. The relationship between Jenna and Dr Pomatter, though inappropriate, is beautifully crafted, laced with moments of lustful exhilaration (as in the song Bad Idea) and gentle tenderness, as in the song, You Matter to Me. Jay-Willis also plays the character’s awkwardness to comic perfection, and his chemistry with Jones as Jenna is absolutely lovely to watch. As Joe, the curmudgeonly diner owner with a heart of gold, Michael Starke brings a lump to the throat with his beautiful rendition of Take It From An Old Man.
And finally, to Lucie Jones as Jenna. Quite simply, she is absolutely superb. Reprising the role she took on in London, shortly before lockdown in March 2020, you can absolutely tell that this is a role that means the world to her. Jones expertly conveys Jenna’s fear and vulnerability in the face of her husband, but we also clearly see her determination and resolve, as we follow her journey towards a better life, and root for her the entire way. Despite its relatively straightforward narrative, Waitress is not an easy sing, and Jones’ vocal talent here is absolutely undeniable – it is so effortless and is showcased to sheer perfection in the heart-wrenching She Used To Be Mine.
Waitress is not a show that dwells too long on the more unsavoury elements of its storyline, but that’s not the type of show it is. If you’re looking for something to challenge you, and force you to confront darker subject matters, then look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for two hours of great fun and escapism (and let’s face it, who isn’t right now?), with beautiful songs, performed by a hugely talented cast and phenomenal onstage band, then Waitress does exactly what it says on the (pie) tin.
Runs until 9 October 2021 and touring