Brooks Atkinson Theatre
“Waitress,” the new musical by Jessie Nelson and Sara Bareilles at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway, based on the motion picture of the same name, is an entirely enjoyable and touching new show. Sara Bareilles’ score is pretty super (especially considering that she has never written a Broadway score before) and Jessie Nelson’s book is filled with lots of laughs, as well as moments of warmth and empathy. Another strong asset in “Waitress” is the glorious star performance by Jessie Mueller. She carries the show with absolute ease and her delivery of the songs is simply terrific. This actress is joined by a wonderful supporting cast, including, especially, a show stopping performance by Christopher Fitzgerald.
The best thing that can be said about “Waitress” is that it is a new musical that truly works, balancing good songs with scenes that run the gambit from hilarious to deeply moving and providing characters you can really care about. What’s more, “Waitress” is the rare show that actually improves on its source material. So, for all those people who cannot get tickets to “Hamilton” (which includes just about everybody), “Waitress” at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre is refreshing and revivifying and is most highly recommended.
The musical of “Waitress” follows the basic outlines of the plot from the film: a waitress, Jenna, in a bad marriage with a creep of a husband, finds out that she is pregnant and must deal with the consequences. Her main solace in life is, most of all, making pies, at which she is a wizard. The arc of the story is how she handles her life situation and manages to turn it into something better.
I would be loath to give any more of the plot away, for it contains more than a few surprises. Jessie Nelson’s book for the musical is pretty grand, but the score by Sara Bareilles is the ingredient that really helps bring the whole show to life. Being a newcomer to Broadway, it is pretty amazing how effective her songs are in expanding scenes from the film and making them even better. From the opening number, “What’s Inside,” to the second act tour de force for the heroine (called “She Used to Be Me”), each song adds shadings to the story, as well as a good deal of emotion and feeling. This composer seems to have the magic touch and makes one wonder what she might bring to Broadway next.
Still, for now, “Waitress” is pretty dandy and it has been directed with a sure hand by Diane Paulus. The director has also coaxed excellent performances from just about her entire cast. As Jenna’s fellow waitresses, the sweet Kimiko Glenn and the big-voiced Keala Settle avoid falling into caricature, thanks to the strength of the writing and the skill of these two actresses. Drew Gehling is suitably handsome and does extremely well as Jenna’s doctor and Nick Cordero does what he can in the unsympathetic role of Jenna’s husband.
However, aside from the leading lady, the performer who most stands out is the adorable Christopher Fitzgerald, as Kimiko Glenn’s beau. This actor has done wonders in musicals before (most notably in “Finian’s Rainbow”), but Fitzgerald truly has a showy part in “Waitress” that makes him shine brighter than ever before. Just to watch him perform “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” in the first act is to experience an actor who can truly bring down the house (and does). Fitzgerald is entirely delightful and nearly threatens to walk away with the show.
Still, Jessie Mueller is magnificent in the title role and ultimately owns this musical. Mueller is one actress who has it all: star quality, good looks, a super singing voice and the ability to play both comedy and heartache (sometimes at the same time). What’s even more notable about Jessie Mueller is that she has become a genuine Broadway star, and, after her Tony Award winning work in “Beautiful,” she may just be a name that sells tickets, and that is a major accomplishment, indeed.
It must also be mentioned that “Waitress” has a delicious look about it, with scenic designer Scott Pask and costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb working wonderfully well together, making this musical appear good enough to eat. “Waitress” is quite a fine show and the only problem I had with it was that the sound design at the performance I attended was a bit muddy at the beginning of the show (after which it did improve).
Musicals that can touch the heart, as well as fill a theatre with laughter, along with providing songs that you really want to hear again, don’t come along that often, so “Waitress” is one Broadway musical that deserves to be embraced.
“Waitress” continues at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway. Tickets can be bought by going to www.ticketmaster.com or calling 877-250-2929
Top photo: Jessie Mueller
Photo by Jeremy Daniel