Theater Review: Sugar, spice and pies that are nice
Waitress served up a plate of goodies
The new Broadway musical "Waitress" is as sweet as pie – almost literally. The show, about a waitress who bakes incredible pies, premiered at Centennial Hall at the University of Arizona on Dec. 4 and will be showing until Dec. 9.
The play follows Jenna, a waitress in a diner in a small southern town who is trapped in an abusive marriage. After accidentally getting pregnant, she meets her new gynecologist, a handsome doctor. During a budding romance, he helps convince her that her pies are good enough to enter a baking contest. The contest would give her enough money to leave her abusive husband.
"Waitress" served up a cast of charismatic characters that left audience members laughing out loud, as well as songs written by Sara Bareilles and a live band.
Christine Dwyer’s portrayal of Jenna, the practical pie-making waitress, managed the perfect balance of level-headed moxie. Her opening performance in “What’s Inside” captured the crowd’s attention right off the bat. Dwyer’s airy vocals, paired with the number’s soft melodies, graced the story with a dream-like introduction. The song lyrics are “sugar, butter, flour” which are the main ingredients in Jenna’s pies, and she sang how she came up with pie ideas. The song sets a calm and repetitive tone to capture being trapped in a small town and being happy to bake.
The story’s second musical number, “Opening Up,” introduces Jenna’s cast of rowdy friends at Joe’s Pie Diner. Jenna’s best friends and co-workers, Becky and Dawn, were played by Maiesha McQueen and Jessie Shelton, respectively. The song is much more upbeat than “What’s Inside” but carries the same messages of being stuck in an endless cycle of the same thing every day. The three lead vocals sang in three-part harmony for the chorus of the song, giving a performance with a bright sunshine tone.
McQueen’s sassy performance as Becky was the comedic relief the audience, and Jenna, counted on when things got too serious. Her strong vocals gave her character performance conviction and a motherly authority. Shelton’s performance successfully portrayed Dawn as the sweet oddball of the group. Her crisp and clean vocals mirrored her character’s orderly persona.
The trio took on serious and comical songs, much like the relationship they share. When Dawn went on her first date with a quirky man, the ladies performed “When He Sees Me,” about how Dawn envisions her future husband. Although funny, the song also got to Dawn's whimsical and dreamy side. The song drew in the ladies' optimistic side amidst a lot of struggle.
The trio worked together to make it through the shifts at the Diner and the ever-shifting parts of their lives. Just as Jenna’s pregnancy test read positive, her doctor’s visit proved to be as sweet as mermaid marshmallow pie.
It was the arrival of a handsome Dr. Pomatter, played by Steven Good, that brought a new kind of tension as the new physician in town. Plagued with a bad marriage and her doubts about motherhood, Jenna found solace in the sentimental relationship she builds with the doctor.
Dr. Pomatter’s clumsy advances towards Jenna made him a lovable character from the start. The crowd laughed at seeing Good’s charming-goober persona. Good and Dwyer’s onstage chemistry easily immersed the crowd in the characters’ adventures and struggles. Not a single person dared make a sound as Good and Dwyer performed their duet, “You Matter to Me.”
The song itself was a raw, emotional declaration. When paired with Dwyer and Good’s melodic vocals, it had the theater holding its breath. Dwyer’s voice broke with emotion as her character addressed the audience in the song’s brief spoken part. She wished her daughter will have the same type of love that she did with Dr. Pomatter – that she can hold someone and say things that matter to her.
The story may not have ended as most would have expected, but it served up a realistic ending that can still be a happy one. Jenna made Dr. Pomatter stay faithful to his wife, left her husband and gave birth the day of the pie contest. Luckily for her, the boss of the diner, whom Jenna befriended, left her the diner right before he passes away. Jenna and her daughter, Lulu, opened a new diner.
The final number, “Opening Up,” brought everyone onstage. The cast’s strong and clean vocals left the room buzzing with hope for Jenna’s future. The song was similar to the first song but had a much more confident tone. The song wrapped the story up in a "happy ending" bow.
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