Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Zander's review of Skeleton Crew
Director Diane Paulus began working on the stage version in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for American Repertory Theater. That production then moved to Broadway. The current tour began in 2017 and it continues, with good reason, to wow audiences.
Jenna (splendid Christine Dwyer) bakes pies and waits tables somewhere in the American South at Joe's Diner. She begins the show by singing "What's Inside." Jenna's personal life is less than ideal since her husband Earl (Jeremy Woodard) fits the profile of a boorish chauvinist and a self-centered bully. Jenna is pregnant, perplexed and confused. Her waitress friends (good buddies for sure) are lively and oftentimes comic advisors. These include Dawn (Ephie Aardema) and Becky (Melody A. Betts). The three women combine on "A Soft Place to Land." By now, Jenna has divulged her notion to win a pie contest. If she does, she will be able to pocket some cash and leave Earl behind.
Waitress is simply fine for awhile, meeting the needs of the genre: effective numbers, humorous dialogue, feeling, character romance, and so on. It becomes both endearing and laugh-out-loud funny as Ogie (Jeremy Morse) and previously inward Dawn (Aardema) begin to date and realize they are a perfect match: two nerdy souls who love to re-enact situations drawn from the American Revolution. Morse, unto himself, is a moment-to-moment sight gag, never passing up the opportunity to fly near, at, or over the top with a shenanigan. Live stage affords the two actors the opportunity to release and play to the audience. Aardema and Morse complement one another and their comic timing is exquisite.
Meanwhile, Jenna is completely taken with her Dr. Pomatter (Steven Good), a lanky and handsome man who is guiding her through her pregnancy. Entangling within the confines of his office, the two of them sing "Bad Idea." During the second act, more people couple off and the production evolves and grows tighter. Christine Dwyer is a sweet highlight with her plaintive solo on "She Used to Be Mine."
Dwyer performs as Jenna with a great understanding of her character. The actress has both vocal range and control. She has previously taken major parts in Wicked, Finding Neverland and Rent. Dwyer comfortably assumes her leading role in Waitress. She is feisty or sensitive depending upon a scene's requirements.
The Waitress touring production (one with plenty of zip) is filled with high caliber actors. Steven Good, as Dr. Pomatter, deserves special recognition. Known as a singer, actor and instrumentalist, he evidently was at some point an athlete as well. Watch him gracefully manipulate his legs in order to avoid crashing into his physician's table. He combines his voice with Dwyer's early on by singing "It Only Takes a Taste" and then later with "You Matter to Me." Good is a high-level talent as are many in this cast.
Sara Bareilles had the hit tune "Love Song" in 2007 and was nominated for a Tony Award for her music and lyrics penned for Waitress. The songs are varied and move from company numbers to individual pieces. Nadia DiGiallonardo supervises music and has provided arrangements. A group of musicians, sometimes visible toward the rear of the stage, add extra juice to fuel the entire presentation.
Waitress, through June 23, 2019, at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford CT. For tickets, call 860-987-5900 or visit bushnell.org. For more information on the tour, visit waitressthemusical.com/tour.php.