Friday, April 29, 2016

Broadway Theater Review: Waitress

Waitress Serves Up a Slice of Life Women Can Understand
By Lauren Yarger
The endearing new Broadway musical Waitress, based on Adrienne Shelly’s film and featuring a score by pop singer/song writer Sara Bareilles, serves up a satisfying helping of just what I have been asking for: a show featuring women on stage dealing with women’s issues.

The show is written by women featuring a number of women characters dealing with issues common to many women. So if one more person refers to this show as “chick flick,” I might be tempted to hit them in the face with a pie. There are plenty of them to be had in this production as two cases tower either side of the proscenium in Scott Pask’s set transforming the Brooks Atkinson Theatre into a pie-serving diner where ushers dressed like waitresses sell snack cups with pie during intermission when the smells of mouth-watering baking pour into the house.

The ambiance invites us to take up a stool at Joe’s Pie Diner where Jenna (Jessie Mueller, who won a Tony for her moving portrayal of Carole King in Beautiful) finds solace in creating pies. The working of the dough and creativity of finding just the right blend of flavors give her an outlet to express her emotions and the activity brings her comfort as she remembers learning the craft from her mother.

The pies reflect what she is experiencing in life and are given names like “Couch Potato Pie,” “Humble Crumble Rhubarb,” “Mama’s Lavender Lullaby” or "Up a Stream Without a Banana Cream.” If they don’t all sound happy, that’s because Jenna’s life isn’t.

Husband Earl (Nick Cordero) is no longer the man of her teenage dreams. He is pretty useless, really, except when demanding Jenna’s hard-earned tip money.

“How’d we do today?” he asks, even as his hot temper causes him to lose his job. Right about here, I wanted to strike him with a rolling pin (this can’t be a fun role for Cordero to play night after night).

He drinks a lot and we get the impression (through some of Diane Paulus’ direction) that he might be physically abusive, though this is not depicted on stage.

There is a bigger problem than the tensions in their relationship, however. Jenna is pregnant. Order up: “Betrayed By My Eggs” pie

Her waitress friends at the diner, Dawn (Kimiko Glenn) and Becky (a delightful Keala Settle), hide her condition from Earl and their boss, Cal (Eric Anderson), until she figures out what to do. Finally, Jenna decides to save up to enter a baking contest and use the prize money to leave Earl.

The friend characters don’t get a lot of development, but what is there is interesting. Wisecracking Becky, whose husband is ill, finds unexpected companionship with crusty Cal who normally serves as her verbal sparring partner. Shy, insecure Dawn finds dating success with enthusiastic and humorously persistent Ogie (Christopher Fitzgerald). Jenna might even get a second chance at love with handsome Doctor Pomatter (Drew Gehling), though there is a lack of visible spark between the actors to convince us of this.

Though the pie names and some of their ingredients aren’t exactly appetizing, the book by Jessie Nelson (known for her screenplays for “I Am Sam,” “Stepmom” and “The Story of Us”) provides a slice of life to which many women can relate (Lorin Latarro’s choreography adds to the storytelling). We’ve either tasted this pie filling or know someone close who has and Bareilles’ music and lyrics are the cherry on top. The ballad “She Used to Be Mine” had me leaning in to hear every word of the lyrics, not only because the sentiment was wise and genuine and seemed to be speaking to my heart, but because Mueller can be difficult to hear at times (I don’t think it is the fault of Sound Designer Jonathan Deans; it seems to be Mueller’s enunciation.) Listen to a clip below.

At any rate, this self-discovery story touches a chord with the audience, which most women’s stories do since 65 to 70 percent of theater ticket buyers are women. So while I would offer a recipe for some garnishes (Paulus should tone back the yell singing by Glenn and Settles, for example, and not shy away from the abuse element -- making that real might cause women to recognize themselves and seek help,) 

Waitress and its really pleasing score are a winner, I am in love with a recurring few lyrics sung about sugar, butter and flour that are a mixture of love and hope shared among the generations of bakers. Music Supervision and Arrangements are by Nadia DiGiallonardo; Orchestrations are by Bareilles and the Waitress Band.

Diner owner Joe (Dakin Matthews) offers a wonderful example of how one person can make a difference in someone’s life.

So if a show written and directed by women about women for women is considered “chick flick,” then I suppose that means stories written and directed by men about men for men -- that would most of what we see on stage these days -- should be labeled “prick flicks.” Serving up some “I Dare You” pie.

Waitress takes your order at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $59 - $145: (877) 250-2929; waitressthemusical.com.

Additonal casting:
Charity Angél Dawson, Thay Floyd, Henry Gottfried, Molly Hager, Aisha Jackson, Max Kumangai, Jeremy Morse, Ragan Pharris, Stephanie Torns and Ryan Vasquez…. Ensemble

Additional credits:
Associate Direction by Nancy Harrington, Associate Choreography by Abbey O’Brien, Costume Design by Suttirat Anne Larlarb, Hair Design by Rachel Padula Shufelt and Jason Allen. Lighting Design by Christopher Akerlind.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Adultery
-- Sexually suggestive actions
-- Sexual activity
-- Horoscope consulted

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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