Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Waitress, whose national tour is now at the National Theatre in Washington, is a sweet and entertaining confection that stays on a low boil most of the time but has breakout moments of joy, well served by Sara Bareilles' pop score.
Director Diane Paulus keeps the action moving constantlyeven the pieces of Scott Pask's sectional set wheel on and offstage, sometimes carrying the six musicians led by Jenny Cartney at the pianoin the story of Jenna (Desi Oakley), a diner waitress and intuitive pie baker trying to make her way through life with the mantra of "Sugar, butter, flour." She lives in the small Southern town where she was born; she feels trapped in her marriage to controlling Earl (Nick Bailey), who takes her earnings and is relentlessly jealous of her other interests; and she's unexpectedly pregnant, which brings her into contact with appealing Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart).
One conceit of Jessie Nelson's book, adapted from Adrienne Shelly's screenplay for the 2007 film, is that Jenna learned baking from her now-deceased mother (Grace Stockdale) and has an ability to create a totally new pie for the diner each day. This seems like a touch of magical realism (since people fall in love with her pies), but the show remains gentle and not overwhelmingwith one exception referenced below.
Oakley provides charm, an engaging presence, and a radiant voice, while Fenkart is adorably awkward, and Bailey is stuck in a thankless role. Larry Marshall offers solid support as the cantankerous owner of the diner, along with roof-shaking Charity Angél Dawson as a fellow waitress and Ryan G. Dunkin as the no-nonsense diner cook.
When Ogie (Jeremy Morse) barrels into the diner the day after a brief date with Jenna's shy coworker Dawn (Lenne Klingaman) and declares his undying love for her in song, the pace speeds up and the production achieves greatness. (Ken Billington's lighting design may get brighter, but even if it doesn't, it seems that the stage is glowing during this number, and costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb has done her most amusing work for the couple.)
The National Theatre