Book By Jessie Nelson. Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles
Based upon the motion picture written by Adrienne Shelly
Dallas Summer Musicals
Directed by Diane Paulus
Choreography By Lorin Latarro
Produced by Barry and Fran Weissler, Norton and Elayne Herrick
Set Design By Scott Pask
Costume Design By Suttirat Anne Larlarb
Lighting Design By Christopher Akerlind
Sound Design By Jonathan Deans
Wig & Make Up Design By Rachel Padula Shufelt and Jason Allen
Associate Direction By Nancy Harrington
Associate Choreography by Abbey O’Brien
Production Management By Juniper Street Productions, Inc.
Orchestrations by Sara Bareilles & The Waitress Band
Music Supervision & Arrangements by Nadia DiGiallonardo
General Manager-B.J. Holt
Executive Producer- Alecia Parker
Production Stage Manager- Thomas J Gates
Company Manager- Eduardo M. Castro
Desi Oakley (Jenna)
Charity Angél Dawson (Becky)
Nick Bailey (Earl)
Bryan Fenkart (Dr. Pomatter)
Lenne Klingaman (Dawn)
Larry Marshall (Joe)
Ryan G. Duncan (Cal)
Jeremy Morse (Ogie)
Skyler Adams (Swing u/s Dr. Pottmar)
Patrick Dunn (Ensemble, u/s Cal, u/s Earl)
Jim Hogan (Ensemble, u/s Dr. Pomatter, u/s Ogie, u/s Earl)
David Hughey (Swing, u/s Cal, u/s Joe)
Arica Jackson (Swing, u/s Becky)
Donterrio Johnson (Ensemble)
Kyra Kennedy (Ensemble, u/s Jenna, u/s Dawn)
Emily Koch (Swing, u/s Jenna)
Maiesha McQueen (Ensemble, u/s Becky)
Gerianne Pérez (Ensemble, u/s Dawn)
Grace Stockdale (Ensemble, u/s Jenna)
Reviewed Performance: 3/28/2018
Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Critic/Editor/Founder for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Waitress is based on the 2007 independent film written and directed by Adrienne Shelly starring Keri Russell. Tragically Shelly was murdered just months before the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
As for the musical on Broadway, it is still running today and on April 10th Smash star Katharine McPhee will take over the lead role.
For its national tour Scott Pask’s Set Design is a country fried homage to Southern living with a charming diner (with its live band place within the diner), Jenna’s simplistic apartment, the doctor’s office and so on. The sets all have terrific set dressings, props, wood paneling, and wall paper that made them pop. The main backdrop is beautifully painted with a country road, grass and trees that anchored the sets and mood of simple country life and the emptiness of Jenna’s life. Pask frames the proscenium with shining silver aluminum square boxes. It’s the material you see in those kitchens in all those diners across America. To top it off Pask has a pie carousel case on either side of the stage. Christopher Akerlind’s lighting is lush and soft throughout the evening. He really knows how to not only match colors, but the intensity, movement, focus, and brightness of his lighting to the volume, tempos, and even to the singing within the music. Even when major set pieces blocked the wide backdrop, he still had it lit to show a bursting sunset or shards of light sprung from it.
The Book for Waitress by Jessie Nelson is like (pardon the pun) an apple pie. It has a lot of tasty ingredients, but it takes a while for it to get cooking, but once it does, it will warm your heart. I walked in with a clean palette, having never seen the film nor heard any of the score (other than the performance on the Tony Awards). Thus, as the book scenes began, it wasn’t connecting, and subplots were thrown into the mixing bowl fast, as was the “time clock”. A major problem that kept popping up all evening long. The audience is asked to forgive time, we will jump time frames (especially the final Act Two scene). But time frames need to be firmly established. Here it is not. The first scenes struggled to find its footing. It’s unfortunate that the book leaves the supporting characters with not enough subtext or emotional weight to give them more variation. Earl is trapped as the hick villain, Joe the elderly customer with the funny one liners, etc. They needed so much more since they do focus into Jenna’s life especially in Act Two.
But once the introduction of Dr. Pomatter happened, the entire book shifted for Jenna. The writing was vibrant, electric, and so raw in its honesty of heartache.
Stay with me on this metaphor of pie here. I’m not familiar at all with the music of Sara Bareilles, other than of course her chart single “Love Song”, and that she is playing Mary Magdalene this Sunday on NBC’s live telecast of Jesus Christ Superstar. As Waitress went into its fifth number (“Club Knocked up”) I realized I had not yet connected emotionally to the score. And I so love new original scores. It is clear that Bareilles does not compose for the stage, so you must change gears and know what lane she is coming from. There are other female rockers who have not written for the stage- Cyndi Lauper for example. Some of Bareilles’ songs would just stop dead cold (for example, “I Didn’t Plan It”) or they just they trailed off. Or they were confusing and didn’t make sense regarding plot or characterization. I.E., “I Love you like a table”. I kept thinking if that was a metaphor for Paul Revere and Betsy Ross, did I miss something in Act One? Or I thought maybe I didn’t pay close attention to American history class in college.
As the evening went on, my brain kept going back to that scene in Amadeus when Salieri was telling him after his latest Opera flop, “You wrote too many songs. You didn’t even give them a big bang at the end for them to applaud.”
But like those pie carousels on stage, there are some delicious songs that do circle around within the score that your musical theater taste buds will savor every morsel. From the menu I picked such numbers as “It Only Takes A Taste”, “You Will Still Be Mine”, “Bad Idea”, “You Matter To Me”, “She Used To Mine”, and “Everything Changes”.
Within this talented cast, there is an actress who slayed and stole every single scene she was in, Maiesha McQueen as Dr. Pomatter’s nurse. Those facial expressions and comedic delivery had the audience in the palm of her hands!
When the national tour of XANADU came to Dallas Summer Musicals in 2010 I was honored to be asked to do the BCEFA cameo role in the show. At rehearsal I met Larry Marshall who was playing Danny Maguire. I immediately knew who he was, none other Simon Zealotes from the 1973 film version of Jesus Christ Superstar. During rehearsal and before the show we chatted, and he shared great (and funny) memories of filming that iconic film. So, it was heartwarming and a surprise to see Mr. Marshall in Waitress portraying the role of Joe. Here he is a silver haired customer who has his own version of reading the horoscope, a unique way of ordering his food, and giving Jenna life advice. But don’t let his age fool you! Joe has a bawdy sense of humor! This is a character that Nelson should have written much more clearly within the book so that Act Two would have connected the dots more clearly. Nonetheless Marshall provides a marvelous vocal with his song “Take It From An Old Man”. The man can still belt those tenor notes! That winsome stage presence glows throughout the evening.
Nick Bailey could have allowed himself to be chained to that the one note villain Earl. Instead he showed a hint of compassion and warmth in his first scene with his wife Jenna at home. You see that first love of maybe high school sweethearts struggling to come out. Bailey has a solid rock voice with a graveling edge that he shows off with his only number (a duet) “You Will Still Be Mine”. He’s fantastic in that song, but damnit, that’s all we get. Both book and music leave such a vital character to disappear into the wings. Which is so unfortunate as Bailey’s talents show much, much more what he could have done if he had he been given more material to work with. He still is outstanding for not allowing himself to stay trapped in that box.
Charity Angél Dawson (Becky) and Lenne Klingaman (Dawn) are Jenna’s co-workers and best friends. Dawn is a shy history buff and a Betsy Ross recreator performer who puts out a personal ad. While Becky is a no holds barred woman, who worries about her boobs, talks sass to her boss (we could all see where that was going from a mile away), and fires great one-liners all evening. Both ladies provide fire cracker performances. Along with Desi Oakley (Jenna), They have flawless harmonies in their trios as well with the chemistry between each other since all three women are on stage all evening long and their characters’ plots intertwine. Dawson has an exquisite song “I Didn’t Plan on It”, while Klingaman has a jovial number with “When He sees Me”.
I honestly cannot remember the last time I’ve seen a musical when a featured character comes almost towards the end of Act One and has the best solo song within the act. The character, Ogie. The actor, Jeremy Morse. The song, “Never Ever Getting Rid Of Me.” Morse may be short (height wise) in comparison to the other men on stage, but he is a giant with talent. Ogie was Dawn’s first response to her personal ad, they went on a date, and he has now appeared at her job! Turns out Ogie is a part time magician, a Paul Revere recreator actor, and an asthmatic. Morse builds his song with that rare once a million-comedic talent. Using physical comedy, props, vocals, facial expressions, pace, timing, energy, and that stage like those few musical theater titans we have left, like Nathan Lane. I think I lost a spleen from laughing so hard! When Morse finished the number and book scene (again to hysterical results), he exited the diner far upstage right, but when he did, he did a full flip ala Dominique Dawes, then held a pose (Aka Mary Catherine Gallagher). I don’t know how much of the audience saw this, but I was wiping my eyes from laughing so frigging hard.
Morse and Klingaman have unbelievable comedic chemistry, they had red hot love as it was shown in Act Two in a side splitting scene (along with the other two romantic couples). Their second act duet “I Love You Like that Table” was mystifying, but both actors did their best to make it work.
Morse's performance must be seen because in the wrong hands it will become over the top, hammy shtick. His work is sensational!
One of the most refreshing things about reviewing national tours is to be exposed to talent from Broadway and national tours that I have not seen before. It’s probably my personal favorite thing about being a theater critic. Which leads me to Bryan Fenkart who portrays Dr. Pomatter in Waitress, the performance that made the entire production for me.
He is handsome and charismatic which fits like a glove for a doctor that a woman would fall for. But what Fenkart did that made him stand outside the confinements of “romantic lead” is that he added this layer of lavish comedy that most romantic leads don’t do. His comedic timing, pace, and delivery is insane! He then adds another coating of physical comedy by using his arms, legs, torso, hands, and facial expressions that left the audience in hysterics. Just the use of a pen in his first scene achieved loud laughs! This is an actor that knows his craft and is so connected to it he knows instantly where to balance his comedy and drama. He never once overplays it. Thus, when the character goes into more serious waters in Act Two, Fenkart sublimely segues his talents to become a man wanting to love this woman.
Fenkart and Desi Oakley (Jenna) have the best two duets of the entire evening. One that is the funniest of the entire score, and the latter the will put a lump in your throat. There is the side splitting “Bad Idea” that involves lovemaking and pies, and the other is heart breaking “You Matter To Me”. Both songs show the mesmerizing range that Fenkart possesses. He gives a spectacular performance and an actor whose work I look forward in seeing again in the future.
Jenna is portrayed by Desi Oakley, an alluring woman who has the gift of baking pies with recipes from her own mind or from that of her mother. She has a disgusting, vile man for a husband, she works all day, must take a bus to get home, and she is pregnant. Jenna is not happy about this, her best friends try to help her, her best tipping customer offers her advice (Joe), and she begins an a affair with her doctor (Fenkart). Oakley has a faultless soprano voice. She has a nice solo with “What Baking Can Do”, but she really shines both as an actress and as a singer with her duets “You Will Still Be Mine” (With Nick Bailey as Earl) and “Bad Idea” (with Bryan Fenkart as Dr. Pomatter). Oakley must have superb chemistry with every single character around her, and she does. From her two best friends, to Joe. But what I found most impressive was her dynamic chemistry with the two men in her life. The uncomfortable, ugly tension between her and Bailey (Earl), and the lust turn possible love with Fenkart (Dr. Pomatter). Oakley had the best musical number of the entire score with the ballad “She Used to Be Mine”. This was by far the best composed song within the score. I was so riveted and deeply moved by the music and Oakley’s robust vocals. You could tell by the audience’s response that this was the show stopping number of the night.
Will you like or love Waitress? Well, let’s go back to that pie carousel together. As you see all those scrumptious flavors and varieties, use that as an analogy for musicals. Everyone has different tastes in what they like to see in musicals. There were problems with the book and score, but it was the performances that made this musical a sweet, heavenly evening of musical theater that made you want to go back and order a second slice!
Dallas Summer Musicals. The Music Hall at Fair Park
Plays through April 8, 2018
Single tickets start at $20 (pricing subject to change), are now on sale at DallasSummerMusicals.org or by phone at 1 (800) 745-3000. They can also be purchased in person at the Music Hall at Fair Park Box Office Monday through Friday from 10am to 6pm and Saturday from 10am to 4pm.