Adelphi Theatre – booking until 19 October 2019
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Waitress is an irresistible dish of scrumptious music, bittersweet story and fluffy comedy that fills you with joy. Based on Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film, the story of an unhappily pregnant waitress stuck in an abusive marriage beginning a relationship with her married gynaecologist doesn’t sound like your average stage musical plot. This shouldn’t work, but Sara Bareilles’ music and lyrics stirred together with Jessie Nelson’s book are the perfect recipe for a show served up perfectly by director Diane Paulus that leaves you laughing and sobbing in equal measure.
The experience begins the moment you walk into the theatre, with the aroma of mouth-watering pies baking wafting about. With columns of pies rotating either side of the stage as well, there were a few rumbling tummies before curtain up. Scott Pask’s slick but homely set design takes the cast from Joe’s Pie Diner to a lonely bus stop with seamless ease. As Jenna concocts her new pies to work through her troubles (her Betrayed By My Eggs Pie on having her pregnancy confirmed is my favourite) the flights of fancy as she dreams up the recipes are handled almost mystically by Choreographer Lorin Latarro, and throughout the show, the simple acts of breaking an egg or whisking the mix are represented beautifully and ritualistically as Jenna’s escape from the realities of her life by conjuring up memories of her mother, for whom baking was also an escape from her husband. Katharine McPhee captures Jenna’s mostly stoic hopelessness in a relatively quiet performance sprinkled with moments of perfect comic timing, until she starts belting out those amazing songs. Her character is the calm centre of the comic and often cartoonish storm around her, as the romantic lives of her friends Dawn (Laura Baldwin at her very best) and Becky (the showstopping Marisha Wallace) are explored to hilarious effect. Whenever Jack McBrayer is on stage as Ogie, Dawn’s online date, his goofy energy and charm is infectious. The men in Jenna’s life are clearly drawn, with Peter Hannah acing Earl’s pathetically needy and controlling nature without any need for explicit onstage violence and Shaun Prendergast’s grumpy Joe bringing a beautifully spiky warmth to the show. David Hunter is an outstanding Dr Pomatter, with enough awkward charm and comic chutzpah to keep his morally dubious decisions under the radar as he and Jenna attempt to hide their relationship from his exasperated nurse (the hysterical Kelly Agbowu).
Sara Bareille’s songs are gloriously catchy and the hook of Sugar, Butter, Flour is almost impossible to get out of your head. This fabulous mix of drab reality, abuse and immorality tempered with hope, dreams and humour that swings from sweet to pure filth all comes together to create one of the best shows on the West End this year. You’ll go back again and again, trust me – one slice won’t be enough.