Theatre Review: Waitress National Tour in Albuquerque, NM, 12/13/19

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Waitress * Book by Jessie Nelson * Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles * Directed by Diane Paulus * National Tour at Popejoy Hall, UNM 12/13/19

I reviewed the Waitress first US national tour in December, 2017 HERE. This is a review of the Waitress US national non-Equity tour which began in November, 2019.

The musical Waitress is about Jenna, a diner waitress who is at a crossroads in her life, and the journey she takes as she comes to terms with the ramifications of her choices, slowly at first, then all at once. By the end of the show, her life is both drastically changed from the life she had at the beginning, but also still comfortingly familiar. Jenna manages to grow and get what she needs without losing what she already has that’s good in her life. But she also leaves the worst of her old life behind as she learns to stand up for herself and leave fear behind.

She’s contrasted with and supported by her two fellow waitresses, Dawn and Becky. Dawn is younger than Jenna, single, even more fearful and with less confidence and experience of the world. She posts a profile on a dating site under the name NewDawnRising which leads her to meet OKCWithaBullet, otherwise known as Ogie, who shares a love of Revolutionary War reenactment with her.

Becky is older than Jenna, world weary, married to a severely disabled husband and trying to make the best of her difficult circumstances. She’s committed to her marriage, though she finds she shares a need for excitement with Cal, the cook/manager at the diner, who is also in a difficult, passionless, but committed marriage.

Jenna has been married to an abusive man, Earl, since she was a teenager and now finds herself accidentally pregnant. She reluctantly decides to keep the baby, but she doesn’t want to keep the husband. She receives fatherly advice from the owner of the diner, Joe, an elderly man who is a frequent customer. Jenna also gets to know her obstetrician, Dr Pomatter, who has recently moved to her small midwestern town with his wife, who is a resident at the hospital.

Through it all, Jenna makes pies, as she has since she was a little girl who learned to cook from her beloved mother. She makes every kind of pie imaginable and creates new pies to fit the moods and events in her life. Her pies are her art, her enduring connection to her mother, her livelihood and her way of expressing her emotions. She pours everything into them.

I love this show because of its warmth, music, story and focus on the women. I love the focus on themes of birth, death, marriage and other forms of transition throughout life, such as major career changes and cross country moves. What we sacrifice and what we keep when we make the decisions that shape our lives are explored, as well as whether the sacrifices are worth it.

The show doesn’t necessarily judge each character’s choices, so much as explain them and reveal human behavior in all its complexities. Pies are a metaphor for life. Living life with your eyes and your heart open is recommended.

I’ve seen Waitress before, and never get tired of it. Unlike the cast for the first US tour, which included veterans of the Broadway production, the cast for this tour is completely new to this musical.  I’m happy to say that they all make the roles their own and put on a great show.

Though the overall level of the performances wasn’t quite up to the standard of the first tour, the performers made up for being slightly less polished with their enthusiastic commitment to their performances. Some played their roles a little more broadly than I’ve seen before, but that wasn’t a bad thing.

There were several times during the performance when I saw something new in the story or the characters, thanks to the performers’ choices, which is amazing, since I’ve seen this show more than a dozen times. David Socolar, as Dr Pomatter, and Michael R Douglass, as Joe, in particular, put a slightly different spin on their characters that I appreciated. Dr. Pomatter can seem superficial, but tonight I felt he was realizing what he’d been missing in life because he’d been too closed up. And, wow, he’s agile. Joe can come off a bit mean and hard. But tonight, for the first time he seemed like a frail old man to me, and I cried during his song.

Gabriella Marzetta was also a riveting Dawn, with all of the character’s quirks fully on display. Nurse Norma is always fun, but Jerica Exum was especially tart in the role. Ogie is a scene stealing role, and Bryan Lundy lived up to his predecessors. Kennedy Salters has a great voice and swagger for playing Becky. Jake Mills made a meal of every moment he could as Cal. If you see the show, be sure to glance over at the diner kitchen from time to time, to see what mischief he’s getting up to with the props. Clayton Howe is sufficiently malevolent as the abusive husband. He does get to sing one good song!

Bailey McCall is a delightful Jenna. She was sympathetic in the role and had good chemistry with the cast. I enjoyed her singing voice, though I wish she didn’t have quite so much of a country twang. Country music fans will love it though!

Waitress made history by being the first Broadway show created by an all female team. The book was written by Jessie Nelson, with the music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles. It was directed by Diane Paulus and choreographed by Lorin Latarro. In addition, the costumes were designed by Suttirat Anne Larlarb and the music was arranged by Nadia DiGiallonardo. The tour features choreography re-created by Abbey O’Brien, tour direction re-created by Susanna Wolk and scenic design by Scott Pask.

Waitress was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score for Sara Bareilles. The musical is adapted from the 2007 movie Waitress, written by Adrienne Shelly and starring Keri Russell.

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Jake Mills, Gabriella Marzetta, Kennedy Salters and Bailey McCall in Waitress

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