WAITRESSBook by Jessie Nelson
Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles
Bass Hall, Fort Worth
Directed by Diane Paulus
Assistant Director – Nancy Harrington
Choreographer – Lorin Latarro
Assistant Choreographer – Abbey O'Brien
Stage Manager – Nicole Olson
Sound Design – Jonathan Deans
Lighting Design – Ken Billington
Set Design – Scott Pask
Costume Design – Suttirat Anne Larlarb
Dance Captain – Skylar Adams
Jenna – Desi Oakley
Cal – Ryan G. Dunkin
Dawn – Emily Koch
Becky – Maiesha McQueen
Joe – Larry Marshall
Earl – Nick Bailey
Mother – Grace Stockdale
Father – Jim Hogan
Nurse Norma – Chante Carmel
Dr. Pomatter – Brian Fenkart
Ogie – Jeremy Morse
Francine – Kyra Kennedy
Lulu – June Whitley
Ensemble – Mark Christine, Jim Hogan, Donterrio Johnson, Kyra Kennedy, Gerianne Perez, Grace Stockdale, David Hughey (swing)
Reviewed Performance: 6/19/2018
Reviewed by Richard P. Buswold, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Desi Oakley leads the tour as Jenna, the offbeat but highly successful pie chef and heroine. She comes from stints in Wicked and Les Miz on Broadway and tours of Wicked and Evita. With a resume like that you would think she comes equipped with some pipes and you would not be wrong. She fills the hall, not with a plastic Broadway belting sound, but rather a more natural and effective country, almost gravely, voice that works so much better for the character and show. Oakley’s Jenna is your average country girl, married to an abusive loser. Yeah, there are lots of country music stereotypes there. Nick Bailey who starred locally in Hood: The Robin Hood Musical Adventure at Dallas Theater Center last year, plays the loser husband, Earl. You'll get that whole Dixie Chicks "Earl had to Die" feeling quickly when he appears on stage. At the start of the show, Jenna finds out she is pregnant, “I do dumb things when I get drunk and sleep with my husband,” is her explanation to her friends and fellow waitresses at Joe's Pie Diner.
The other two waitresses are Becky played by Maiesha McQueen. Gloriously played I should say. She found the funny in almost every line she had. She reminded me of Nell Carter in her heyday. The other waitress is the nerd, Dawn. She's portrayed Betsy Ross 32 times in re-enactments. She finally decides to pursue an on-line match and agrees to a five-minute date with Ogie. Ogie is spastic and Jeremy Morse blasts the stage with nervous energy and controlled chaos to thunderous response. He almost stops the show when he sings his profession of love in the bizarre, bouncy “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” towards the end of the first act. Thankfully there is a short encore built in to satisfy the audience. Finishing out the crew at the diner is Cal the cook. Ryan G. Dunkin is a perfect I-think-I'm-as-cool-as-Elvis redneck who yells and gripes at the waitresses but never really means them no harm.
The Diner's owner (who happens to own several other businesses in this small town) is Joe, sweetly played by Larry Marshall, comes by for his daily piece of pie and tomato slice and conversation with Jenna. He becomes integral to the story in the end but that would be a spoiler.
With music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles (Grammy nominee for “Brave” and “Love Song”) and book by Jessie Nelson, this adaptation Adrienne Shelley's 2007 movie is an extremely pleasant theatrical experience. The subtlety of Lorin Latarro's choreography is a thing of beauty, consistently intriguing even exciting while never being over-the-top. The show, designed by an all-female creative team received a Tony nomination for Best Musical. Unfortunately, there was this other little show by Lin Manuel Miranda up for the same award that same year.
Oakley delivers as does all the cast. The six-piece onstage band led by Jenny Cartney — was just right for the small orchestrations, But, on opening night, the sound was so out of balance it was hard to hear all the lyrics of some songs. I am not faulting the actors, there was just so much volume that the words got lost. It's a theatre, not an arena.
The set impressed me as well. Most all pieces were on tracks that slid on and off stage with ease and those that were not were put in place by the actors as part of the choreography. The single backdrop of a prairie scene was changed by the lighting in both conventional and interesting designs. Kudos to Ken Billington for that as well as the other special effects brought about by just lights.
My only complaint was Chante Carmel's version of Nurse Norma. Almost every line exploded out of her mouth with Tyler Perry style "blackness" to the point where she almost became a caricature of the sassy black girl.
Waitress is a tasty slice of American theatre served fresh, and the audience Tuesday night at Bass Hall gobbled down every bite and licked the plate. There are only a few tickets left so if you haven't gotten them yet, do it quickly.
Evening Curtain 7:30
Fri/Sat/Sun Matinee 1:30
Tickets start at $44
To purchase tickets, visit www.basshall.com/waitress or go by the Box Office M-F 10A-6P. The Box Office is also open one hour prior to performances.