What happens when a very successful independent film gets the attention of one of modern history’s great singer/songwriters? Answer: history gets made on a couple of levels. For the first time in stage history, a team entirely made up of women brought a production to Broadway in the adaptation of writer-director Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film “Waitress”. Starring Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Jeremy Sisto, and Andy Griffith, it centers around Jenna Hunterson, a small-town food server with a knack for creating amazing pies that are the sensation of the diner she works in with her best friends, Becky and Dawn. When she discovers she is pregnant after a drunken night with her dominating husband, she ends up falling in love with the new doctor in town, with all of the complications that comes with. With the songwriting power of Sara Bareilles behind it, it took Broadway by storm and is now playing at Dallas’ Music Hall at Fair Park through April 8th.
Partnered with a live band that is featured on stage and top-notch technology and stage design that makes all of the transitions smooth as glass, this cast is simply one of the best I have seen in recent memory. Desi Oakley shines as Jenna, owning the stage while also having the give-and-take necessary for each and every one of her fellow cast members to help move the story forward. This script, adapted for the stage by Jessie Nelson, is so rich that it is able to balance multiple storylines at the same time magnificently. Each and every person on the stage owns their roles, from Lenne Klingaman as the awkward Dawn to Charity Angel Dawson as the over-the-top Becky all the way to Larry Marshall’s Joe, the regular that has to have everything just right for his meal while helping be Jenna’s moral compass. There is also a wonderful turn by Jeremy Morse as Ogie, a suitor with his eyes set on Dawn after replying to her online profile. He and Klingaman have GREAT chemistry together that had me laugh out loud on more than one occasion. From the other side of the story, Bryan Fenkart as Dr. Pomatter plays the goofy out-of-towner that had me smiling on more than one occasion and Maiesha McQueen provides even more great comic relief as his nurse. Nick Bailey plays such a good Earl (Jenna’s husband) that there were people in our audience that were throwing true hatred at him and hoping for him to get his comeuppance.
Bareilles’ style is also a huge part of the mood here, and her pop/folk sensibilities are the perfect fit for this story. From “The Negative” moment where Jenna finds out that she is pregnant through “You Will Still be Mine” as Earl’s insecurities are put on display up to “Everything Changes” as the story reaches its climax, the emotional punch hits every beat at exactly the right time. The very talented band coordinated by John Miller also does great work at providing the music and even being involved in the production itself at certain points, giving a really cool sense of community to an already great presentation.
There is nothing about this production I did not truly enjoy, and although it’s creator sadly passed away before she could see the true potential of her vision come to life, I have no doubt that she could find no higher level of happiness in the treatment of “Waitress” for the stage. Granted, this is not a production for the entire family due to some mature themes and sequences, so make sure this is more of a “parents’ night out” than anything else, but do make sure to put it on your list to check out, whether while in its Dallas run or whenever it comes to a city near you!