| May 3, 2016


Brooks Atkinson Theatre, NYC, April 28, 2016

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Drew Gehling & Jessie Mueller Photo: Joan Marcus

Drew Gehling & Jessie Mueller
Photo: Joan Marcus

Waitress has the woman’s touch and it’s not only from the heavenly aroma of fresh baked pastries wafting through the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.  With a book by Jessie Nelson, based on the late Adrienne Shelly’s film, Sara Bareilles’ charac- ter-based country pop score, Lorin Latarro’s choreography and well-crafted staging by Diane Paulus, there’s woman power behind these goodies.  Besides, how can you go wrong with “sugar, butter, flour,” especially if it is measured, mixed and baked by likeable power singer Jessie Mueller?  

Tony Award winner Mueller (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) plays Jenna, a waitress and pastry chef at Joe’s Diner, just off Route 27.  Mueller has a winsome charm and blazing vocals and shows a keen understanding of Jenna, the empathetic creator of such sweet pie confections as “Life’s Just Peachy Peachy Keen,” “Mermaid Marshmallow” and “Deep Dish Blueberry Bacon.”  An opening song reveals “What’s Inside” her pies and yes, there’s sugar, but also unexpected touches. Jenna’s creations come as fast as her mood changes and right now, she’s in a predicament, stuck in a loveless marriage to a loathsome husband.  She is also pregnant and not happy about it. 

Fortunately, Jenna remembers her past with “What Baking Can Do” (“I’ll bake me a door to help me get through”). She also has two supportive pals at work, tough-talking Becky (Keala Settle from Hands on a Hardbody) and bashful Dawn (Kimiko Glenn from Orange Is the New Black), who help lift her spirits.  They urge her to join a pie-baking contest which she’ll probably win and then have enough money to leave her husband, Earl, played with credible repugnance by Nick Cordero (Bullets Over Broadway). Additional help getting over this difficult situation comes with an unexpected affair with her gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter (Drew Gehling), even as they both agree: “Bad Idea.” 

Director Paulus smoothly goes for the broad comedy in Nelson’s book. Gehling plays Dr. Pomatter as a likeable though goofy love interest with a more-than-pleasing voice. His rendition of “You Matter to Me” is anything but clumsy and rings with truthful beauty. Dakin Matthews (Joe, owner of the diner and other local businesses) plays a demanding customer with a heart of gold revealed in a helpful moment with “Take It from an Old Man.” A crowd-pleaser comes from shy Dawn’s first date, Ogie (Christopher Fitzgerald), who proves he’s smitten by delivering a quirky, stalking love-type song, “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me.” Eric Anderson as Cal, the diner’s manager, is stereotypically brash, but, in a surprising moment, it turns out he is just a cupcake in the arms of the querulous Becky. “I Didn’t Plan It,” Becky explains in the Act II opener when she and Cal are caught canoodling behind the counter. 

Even with her stalwart support, Jessie Mueller is the heart of Waitress, with down-to-earth warmth and authentic generosity.  Her radiant voice breaks out in a heart-stirring 11 o’clock number, “She Used to Be Mine,” declaring a rediscovered pride and declaration of independence.

Scott Pask’s diner slides into place, a bright design chockablock with diner details and an open sky beyond. A six-piece band sits behind the diner’s counter, and on the proscenium are two tall, revolving glass pie shelves. Lighting by Christopher Akerlind changes moods from the colorful diner to Jenna and Earl’s gloomy home to the doctor’s office where she finds love.  Suttirat Anne Larlarb provides suitable mid-century costumes.

It is admittedly calorie-laden, but with Jessie Mueller serving her pies, Waitress is worth the splurge.

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Category: Broadway Reviews, Musical Theatre Reviews, New York City, New York City Musical Theatre Reviews, Regional

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