note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
Be sure to see two-act musical, “Waitress” at American Repertory Theater’s (ART) Loeb Drama Center, so you can be among the first to say you saw this marvelous musical before it opens on Broadway next April.
Like everything else (ART) iconic, artistic director Diane Paulus helms lately at the Harvard Square theater, including award-nominees-winners, “Porgy and Bess,” “Pippin,” and “Finding Neverland,” “Waitress” is already branded with Paulus’ magic touch, delighting theatergoers and critics alike.
And Paulus knows how to insure success. Besides partnering with Jessie Nelson to write the book, adapted from Adrienne Shelly’s movie starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion (who was in ART’s audience opening night), Paulus brainstormed with 35-year-old singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, who wrote the lyrics and music for this version.
Bareilles doesn’t merely supply harmony and musicianship. Her songs further define Shelly’s characters, revealing their stories and personalities.
And what a group they are!
Main character Jenna, superbly portrayed by Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller, is a pie diner waitress-creator, who dishes up delicious delectables for customers, including crusty, elderly diner owner, Joe (terrifically rakish Dakin Matthews). Jenna’s married to Earl, (impressive Joe Tippett), an abusive boor, who takes her tip money nightly and slams her around habitually. As much as Jenna needs Earl to get by, he’s even more dependent on her emotionally, but has a lousy way of showing it.
Jeanna de Waal, a native Londoner, is deliciously self-effacing as waitress Dawn. de Waal originated the role of Mary Barrie in “Finding Neverland,” and portrayed Lauren in “Kinky Boots” on Broadway, where she intends to return after ART.
Bombastic veteran/Broadway actress, Keala Settle dishes out heaping portions of pain and sarcastic barbs as been-around-the-block-a-few-times waitress, Becky.
The women’s personalities are contrasting, yet complementary, their camaraderie sublime. And they all find love, mostly in the wrong places. Dawn finds genuine happiness on the Internet, with enthusiastic, smitten tax auditor, Ogie, who bounces around the diner, singing, “Never Getting Rid of Me”. Becky, whose sickly husband is dependent on her, finds solace in the kitchen with crusty Cal, (Eric Anderson), whose wife is gay.
And Jenna? She’s pregnant with Earl’s baby. She tells new, awkward, but handsome obstetrician Dr. Pomatter she doesn’t want the baby, but will have it anyway. Mueller and Drew Gehling portraying Pomatter ignite the stage with their love trysts.
Although not all romances have storybook endings, Jenna finds herself in her self-realization solo, “She Used to be Mine,” and lands solidly on her feet.
Bareilles‘ score is uplifting, at times charming and earthy, fabulously delivered by Conductor Nadia DiGiallonardo at the piano and her marvelous musicians.
Also noteworthy are Broadway/”Finding Neverland” costume designer, Suttirat Larlarb, lighting designer Kenneth Posner, and sound designer Jonathan Deans’ stirring effects. Broadway set designer Scott Pask’s fluted crust-framed stage with its criss-crossed cherry pie curtain, outline his greasy spoon diner, with its movable tables, ladies’ bathroom, obstetrician’s waiting, examining, and delivery rooms, along with Jenna and Earl’s shabby abode.
Besides serving two hours of excellent theater, “Waitress” dishes out a slice of life that touches us all.
BOX INFO: World premiere of two-act musical,“Waitress,” directed by American Repertory Theater’s (ART) iconic, artistic director Diane Paulus, based on author Adrienne Shelly’s movie, with book by Jessie Nelson and music,lyrics by Sara Bareilles. Appearing through Sept. 27 at the Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle St., Harvard Square, Cambridge.Recommended for eighth graders and older because of strong language, spousal abuse and sexual themes. Tickets start at $25. For performance schedule, more information, call 617-547-8300 or visit www.americanrepertorytheatre.org.