Broadway: “Waitress”

During the summer of 2007 I discovered two very different things. The first was a charming poppy little tune called “Love Song” performed by a new singer-songwriter named Sara Bareilles. Her song was fun, catchy and became an immediate earworm. Her album was good as well, including the fantastic “Gravity”. I became a fan and began following her career. Her subsequent albums grew stronger, and eventually she became a very talented standout in the pop culture sphere.

That same summer I also watched an adorable little independent movie called Waitress. What could have been a film nobody paid any attention to, tragically gained notoriety after its costar, writer, and director, Adrienne Shelley, was murdered. This horrific event brought a lot of attention to the film, but even so, unfortunately, it remained a mostly undiscovered gem, in spite of it turning a significant profit over its very tiny budget. The film, which starred the fantastic Keri Russell, told the story of a pregnant waitress and pie-maker, who dreams of a better life for herself and her unborn child, as she puts up with an abusive husband and enters an affair with her married OBGYN. I loved the movie, but between the fact that no one else seemed to have heard of it and its deceased creator, I assumed it would be forgotten like so many other worthy but unnoticed productions.

Then something magical happened. Sara Bareilles announced that she would be writing the score to a new Broadway musical. That show? An adaptation of Shelley’s film Waitress. The two had shared their entrance into pop culture, and now were converging once again. I followed the news and updates quite closely. First, Bareilles released an album with her versions to all the songs in the musical. Next, casting choices were announced and Jessie Mueller, who had won the Tony Award for best actress for the Carol King musical was casted as the lead. And lastly, on YouTube small clips from tech and rehearsal began to appear, they were amazing. I couldn’t wait! That said, a new musical takes time to develop and can change a bit in the beginning as it finds its footing, so I didn’t want to be amongst the first to go see it; I had to wait until it was good. Right after the Tony nominations were announced, and Waitress had received several, I knew my time had come. So I bought my tickets and went to see the show the day before the Tony Awards. I was so psyched!

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I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the basic story had remained intact, including the abuse storyline and the cheating by the two romantic leads. They even amplified the maternal ambivalence felt by the protagonist, and explored what it is like for someone to be depressed and disappointed by the news of pregnancy. The stage design was colorful and bright, especially the scenes that take place in the pie shop. Beautifully choreographed, the show incorporates cooking and baking and seamlessly showcases it in an organic and melodic way – at times even reminiscent of ballet. The songs retain a very definite Bareiless-ness but cross multiple genres and styles, I was very much impressed with the awesome work she had done. Jessie Mueller is amazing. I was rooting for her so much to win the Tony again, but I totally get why Cynthia Erivo won in the end. That said, Mueller is able to convey so much emotion, such a range of feelings, such pathos, that I completely fell in love with her.

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The supporting cast is equally great. I had no idea she could sing, but Kimiko Glenn (Orange Is the New Black) can really sing, and her performance was good as the wallflower waitress Dawn. Keala Settle, as waitress Becky, brought powerful pipes and a fantastic comedic timing to the table. Christopher Fitzgerald stole every scene he was in as Dawn’s suitor, and he was able to sell a hilarious song that in the hands of anyone else could be really a terrifying ode to stalking, but in his hands was an adorable love song.

The songs themselves are beautiful, but the standout is clearly “She Used to Be Mine”, which is absolutely amazing and would even bring a statue to tears. I cannot sing the praises of this show enough. If you live in NYC, go see it now. If you don’t, buy a plane ticket, come and go see it. You will not be sorry.

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