Based on the 2007 indie film co-starring, written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly, the musical theatre adaptation of Waitress with book by Jessie Nelson and music/lyrics by Sara Barelillis, the four-time Tony nominated musical wraps the Nashville leg of its current Nation Tour with four remaining performances this weekend at TPAC’s Jackson Hall with a Saturday matinee at 1:30 p.m., Saturday evening performance at 8 p.m., Sunday matinee at 2:30 p.m. and a final Sunday evening performance at 6 p.m.
Waitress tells the story of Jenna, as the show’s title suggests, a waitress. Jenna works at Joe’s Pie Diner, a small southern town roadside eatery, who’s niche market is the offering of several varieties of pies, all of which Jenna bakes fresh each morning. In addition to your standard variety pie, Jenna also creates a special pie of the day each day, some of which contain unexpected, by delicious ingredients.
As Jenna (Desi Oakley) is seen baking one early morning at the top of the show, she melodically repeats the main ingredients, “Sugar, Butter, Flour” in an almost hypnotic, but soothing lullaby tone.
While initially seeming insignificant, that three-word mantra that begins each of Jenna’s baking sessions soon becomes much more, for you see, Jenna is trapped in a loveless marriage with her abusive husband, Earl (Nick Bailey) and those three words, the act of baking itself offer her control of her life and a temporary escape from it.
While Bailey’s Earl is the villain of the piece, even he gets a musical moment, and in that moment, we see why Jenna was initially attracted to him as he twangs up and strums his guitar. Yes, even in a Broadway musical’s National Tour, there’s country music, so you know Nashville audiences love Earl, even if we’re all secretly humming the Dixie Chick’s big hit, Goodbye Earl in our heads!
Of course, Jenna does have options, one comes in the form of an undeniable attraction with an unexpected acquaintance, her—Spoiler Alert—OBGYN, Dr. Pomatter (Brian Fenkart) Their duets on Bad Idea, It Only Takes a Taste and You Matter to Me are simply delicious.
Jenna’s unhappiness is perfectly personified by Oakley’s oddly reserved way of delivering her lines. She seems to barely open her mouth when speaking, causing her dialogue to come across with a mix of anger and disinterest. When the role calls for her to sing, that reserved discontent comes across with a vocal quality reminiscent of angst queen, Alanis Morissette.
The oft repeated “Sugar, Butter Flour” mantra takes on another meaning as the characters develop. At first, just there, just part of the mix-if you will-is Jenna. Seemingly bland, bored and just existing, she’s the Flour, holding things together. The show’s opening number, What’s Inside, the insightful What Baking Can Do and Act 2’s She Used to Be Mine showcase Oakley’s vocal skills and reveal her character’s multifaceted layers.
At the aforementioned pie diner, Jenna works alongside fellow waitresses Dawn and Becky and cook/manager Cal. As these characters were introduced, I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite late 70s/early 80s TV sitcoms, Alice. If you’re familiar, Jenna is obviously Alice, with Becky being spitfire sass-mouth Flo, Dawn mirroring Vera’s awkward sweetness and Cal the perfect modern-day blustery Mel.
As scene-stealer, Becky, Charity Angel Dawson is the Butter of the cast. Her over-the-top fierceness adds just the right bit of richness to the show. Dawson’s Becky has great one-liner moments throughout the show, but it’s her Act 2 starter, I Didn’t Plan It that revs up what the audience suspects from the get, Dawson is a powerhouse vocalist with undeniable stage presence…Butter it’s most savory form!
Dawn, as portrayed by Lenne Klingaman is the Sugar. Sweet, almost to a fault, but infectious, addicting. She takes the lead on Act 1’s When He Sees Me as she hesitantly weighs the options of online dating. With lyrics like “what if he opens up a door I can’t close”, it’s one of my personal favorite moments in the show.
On the subject of Dawn’s unexpected potential love interest, enter Jeremy Morse as overly excited and excitable Ogie. Take equal parts Barney Fife, Jack Tripper and any role Jerry Lewis ever played and you get Morse’s Ogie. After his introductory scene, in which fellow cast members could be seen physically shaking trying not to crack up (a la some of the best Carol Burnette skits) as he obviously ad-libed in reaction to the audience’s enthusiasm, I was so tempted to give him a standing ovation. Pure comedic genius.
As alluded in the above referenced Spoiler Alert, at show’s end, there’s a cute five-year-old added to the recipe, Lulu. As the tour does in each city, the role is played by two local youngsters, sharing the role by alternating each night. For Nashville’s dates, Ellie James and Olivia Graves share Lulu duties and in one brief show-ending moment snag the spotlight and the audience’s hearts in the process.
Other notable cast members include Maisha McQueen as Nurse Norma, Ryan G. Dunkin as Cal and Larry Marshall as Joe. McQueen, who also understudies for Becky, makes the most of her brief stage time with some knowing looks and snappy come-backs. Duncan’s Cal is never better than when he starts a lille hanky panky with Becky. Marshall, a veteran of the stage, is perfectly cast as Joe, the seemingly cantankerous proprietor of the diner, and its most faithful, if not dissatisfied customer.
So there you have it. You want the perfect recipe for a successful musical adaptation of a oddball indie film, see Waitress. Oh, and did I mention, Nashville-based southern candy confectioner Goo Goo Clusters has teamed with TPAC to create a Waitress-inspired pie? Conveniently packaged in lidded jars, LuLu Loves Goo Goo Pie is available during the show’s run at the second level concessions area just beyond the main lobby. You can also stop by The Goo Goo Store downtown throughout the weekend to take home an entire pie inspired by the show.
Limited tickets remain for each of Waitress’ four remaining Nashville performances. Tickets for Waitress range in price from $50 to $90. Please note: $25 RUSH Tickets will be available for every remaining performance. Simply show up at TPAC 90 minutes prior to showtime and inquire at the box office. CLICK HERE for tickets or more information. Not in Nashville, but still craving a piece of the pie, not to worry. the ladies of Joe’s Pie Diner and all their friends are setting up musical pop-up shops, if you will, across the country as Waitress continues its National Tour with upcoming performances in New Orleans, Ft. Worth, Louisville, Chicago, Madison and LA. CLICK HERE for dates/tickets and more info or follow Waitress On Tour on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Following Waitress,TPAC closes the current season with Love Never Dies: The Phantom Returns June 19-24. CLICK HERE for tickets or more information. You can also keep up with the latest from TPAC on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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