Review: Waitress at Broadway Sacramento
Baking pies has never seemed more fun. All you need is sugar, butter, flour, plus a little song and dance. Waitress, brought to town by Broadway On Tour, makes it all look easy, even if its story is slightly more complex.
Jenna Hunterson (Christine Dwyer) is a small-town waitress trapped in a marriage with her abusive husband. Her life soon becomes even more complicated when she learns she’s pregnant. She’s not exactly ecstatic. Though she faces a future full of uncertainty, Jenna remains grounded by her friends/fellow waitresses Becky (Maiesha McQueen) and Dawn (Jessie Shelton), and finds solace in baking a new type of pie each day, with unique ingredients and names that reflect her emotional state. (As soon as she discovers she’s pregnant, she conjures up a recipe for “Betrayed by my Eggs Pie.") Looking for a fresh start, Jenna sets her sights on an upcoming pie-baking contest, intent on winning the prize money and leaving town for good.
Based on the 2007 movie written and directed by Adrienne Shelley, Waitress the musical was written by Jessie Nelson with music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles. The show debuted on Broadway in 2016, and now the national tour stops at Community Center Theater. The production takes everything that was great about its cinematic predecessor and serves it up in larger-than-life portions made for the stage.
Set primarily in a diner, the act of waiting tables and baking goodies naturally lends itself to the show’s rapid, kinetic choreography and set transitions. Spoon-slapping, trolley-twirling and flour-tossing are just a few of the heightened dramatic elements that make this production a delight to witness, all of which wouldn’t exist without Bareilles’ solid soundtrack. Early numbers such as “The Negative” and “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” play up the comedy and leave a lasting impression. Act two gets a little more serious, culminating with “She Used to Be Mine,” an intense ballad of reflection and self-discovery that deals some major tear duct damage.
The cast is solid, too. Dwyer expertly balances wry humor with emotional vulnerability, while McQueen and Shelton bring their own comedic antics to the table. Matt DeAngelis plays the most incredible douchebag in Jenna’s husband, Earl; Steven Good takes the opposing role of sweet, neurotic “nice guy” Dr. Pomatter, Jenna’s OB-GYN. The real scene-stealer, however, is Jeremy Morse as Ogie, Dawn’s love interest and a Revolutionary War fetishist. Already, that reveals too much—so let’s just say you’ll never think of the phrase “The British are coming” the same way ever again.
Really, what’s most striking about Waitress is how it portrays pregnancy and female sexuality. Disillusioned with married life and reluctant to embrace motherhood, Jenna’s feelings and actions largely transgress cultural expectations surrounding womanhood, making her even more compelling. Not every woman is enthralled with the prospect of becoming a mother—that doesn’t make them a bad person.
Waitress gives all its women room to explore their feelings and work through their fears without condemning them. It’s a rare kind of story that isn’t always told onstage, and that alone makes it worth seeing. The singing and dancing is just a nice extra layer of sugar and spice.