Arts and Culture Editor
The new Broadway musical “Waitress” tells the story of a down on her luck server named Jenna (Shoshana Bean). Jenna lives with an abusive mess of a husband, Earl (Ben Thompson). After learning that she is pregnant with Earl’s child, Jenna feels lost and defeated. She knows she does not want to raise her baby in a destructive household. After Jenna begins an affair with her Gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter (Joey Mcintyre), she finds love in her life for the first time. With support from her two best friends, Becky (Charity Angél Dawson) and Dawn (Lena Klingman), Jenna strives to makes a sweeter world for herself.
Shoshana Bean gives a richly affecting performance as Jenna. Bean brings much soul to the protagonist of this piece. Her Jenna is someone who clearly wants the best for herself and her unborn child, she just needs a new start in life. In her asides to the audience as she dreams of a better future, she brings a raw quality that is not normally seen on the Broadway musical stage. She also shares fine chemistry with Mcintyre’s Pomatter particularly in their heart melting duet together, “You Matter To Me”. Her acting impresses, but her vocals bring chills. In her 11 o clock number, “She Used to Be Mine”, Bean sang and emoted with a force so strong that it all but caused the roof of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre to blow off. Bean’s performance anchors this already enjoyable musical to soaring heights.
Joey Mcintyre delights as Dr. Pomatter. He charms in his song with Bean, “It Only Takes a Taste”. He brings an endearing goofiness to the role, that helps greatly in the audience getting on his side. The character cheats on his wife with Jenna, yet the everyman likability Mcintyre brings to Pomatter makes him someone that the audience roots for. The same can be said for Eddie Jemison as Ogie. Ogie is the love interest of the character Dawn, yet becomes borderline obsessive in his standout song, “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” as he sings how he literally will never leave her. Nevertheless, the comedic energy Jemison brings to this number makes Ogie a crowd favorite. The actor reprised this role from his portrayal in the original film version, and his endless enthusiasm for this character clearly shows as Jemison hams it up onstage. Both characters may seem unlikeable on the surface, but these actors bring a humor and humanity to these men that make them worth following.
Charity Angél Dawson provides great sass and sincerity as Jenna’s good friend, Becky. Becky is someone who, unlike Jenna, is not afraid to break out and say whatever’s on her mind. This is certainly the case with her interaction with Benny Elledge’s lovably gruff and grumpy, Cal. Becky is boisterous and does not care if she is late to work every now and then. Eventually Becky and Cal start a humorous affair together. Dawson and Elledge bring much humor to the characters’ relationship as they are so unfazed by what others think. Dawson also shares a heartfelt chemistry with Bean’s Jenna. Dawson’s Becky serves as a constant supporter and voice for Jenna. She inspires her when she is down and is not afraid to say the tough truths to her friend, as in the song, “I Didn’t Plan It”. Dawson brings a soul to to the number that commands audience’s attention. She stuns throughout, and consistently serves excellent comedic and dramatic acting choices.
Lenne Klingaman simply shines as the anxiety filled, Dawn. In her number, “When He Sees Me” Dawn worries about her blind date, and begins a song of worry that is relatable and comical. Her manic energy as her mind spirals thinking of all that could go wrong on this date brings knowing laughs and sympathy from the audience. Klingaman also shares a humorous chemistry with Jemison’s Ogie that is equally endearing and quirky. She also has wonderful scenes with Bean and Dawson. She completes this trio of waitresses perfectly. Other standouts in the cast include Ben Thompson’s threatening husband character, Earl, Arica Jackson as the joke cracking, Nurse Norma, and Larry Marshall as the wise old man at the diner, Joe.
Diane Paulus’s direction and Lorin Latarro’s choreography complements the piece effortlessly as the scenes move swiftly with a gentle ease. Latarro is quite magical as her movements throughout finds the heightened beauty of everyday life. Although nothing extravagant, Scott Pask and Christopher Akerlind’s set and lighting designs are also strong as the locations and lights are detailed without ever taking away from the rawness of the story.
Nadia Digiallonardo must also be given credit for the excellent orchestrations and music supervisions to Sara Bareilles’s catchy score. Bareilles’s music for “Waitress” has the pop sensibility audiences know her for, yet there is a soulfulness to her ballads that surprise and astound in their dramatic weight and power. She also proves to be strong in writing for musical comedy as her comic numbers, “Never Ever Getting Rid Of Me”, “I Love You Like a Table” and “When He Sees Me” are all audience favorites. Jessie Nelson’s book also gives humor and humanity to each of these characters. The characters at times may seem rough around the edges, but as this musical preaches, it is what’s inside that counts. The story brings a weight and dimension that packs a surprising dramatic punch.
“Waitress” has a strong ensemble cast, a bouncy score by Bareilles and a visually appealing design. This show has been running for a couple years, but its down to earth quality and humorously human characters make it one audiences cannot get enough of. These people in the musical are trying to be better and make the best life for themselves. The musical leaves audiences with a message of hope as Jenna and the other characters work their way out of troubling adversity. This is a slice of life tale that rings with a heart as delicious and full as any show on Broadway today.