‘Waitress’ serves up a tasty treat
CLEVELAND — The national tour of “Waitress” just started, but they already seem to have perfected the recipe.
The first performance for an audience was Tuesday, and Friday’s official opening flowed seamlessly.
Director Diane Paulus’ staging has a real fluidity, with the action quickly shifting back and forth from Joe’s Pie Diner to moments that take place inside Jenna’s prep kitchen or in her mind (Ken Billington’s lighting design effectively conveys those shifts from the real world and Jenna’s imagination). Actors go from diner patrons to set movers, keeping the pace between scenes brisk.
There are a lot of moving parts, and Friday they were moving in unison to create a real crowd pleaser. The cast was greeted by a long, loud standing ovation, and that was happening before the creative team — Paulus, Sara Bareilles (music and lyrics) and Jessie Nelson (book) — joined them on stage for a bow.
The musical is based on the 2007 movie about a waitress and pie maker extraordinaire trapped in an abusive marriage and pregnant with a child she doesn’t want.
She plots an escape from her needy manchild of a husband by hoping to win a pie-baking contest and further complicates her life by having an affair with her obstetrician.
Desi Oakley as Jenna has a beautiful voice, most dazzling on her big act two number “She Used to Be Mine.” But she also conveys the heartache in Jenna’s life and how baking is her solace and salvation.
Charity Angel Dawson and Lenne Klingaman are equally good as fellow waitresses Becky and Dawn, respectively. The three women capture the supportive sisterhood that exists in the crew.
Dawson gets a big vocal number to open the second act, “I Didn’t Plan it,” and Bareilles is generous in spreading the vocal showcases throughout the cast.
Another standout is Larry Marshall as a diner owner Joe, who also is Jenna’s most cantankerous customer. His rendition of “Take It from an Old Man” was a highlight.
The casting is strong throughout, but Jeremy Morse is a scene-stealing master as Dawn’s suitor Ogie. Every line delivery, gesture and body movement had the audience roaring. After his initial appearance and the musical number “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me,” I could feel the anticipation in the audience each time he returned to the stage, the excitement for what he would do next.
“Waitress” didn’t collect any Tony Awards on Broadway, only because it opened the same season as “Hamilton.” However, based on the national tour, there’s no doubt it’s a winner.