I had the pleasure of seeing Waitress on Broadway back in October as a belated birthday present. My mom, sister, and I took advantage of the show’s “Buy One, Get One for $10” deal to grab discounted tickets for a Sunday matinee, and as much as I’ve gotten used to the post-evening show hustle through Times Square to make my train home, it was nice to drive in with people and leave the theater a little more relaxed than usual.
Waitress has been on my list of must-see Broadways show for awhile, and at this point, it was really the only new musical that I was interested in seeing. Even now, I’m more looking forward to next season’s revivals than its new shows. The cast recording became essay-writing music for me in my last semester of school, and I figured that, if anything, seeing the show would be a fun, girly afternoon with my mom and sister.
Based on the 2007 indie film, Waitress tells the story of Jenna, a diner waitress in a small southern town who finds herself pregnant by her abusive husband. In addition to feeling ambivalent about becoming a mother, she has a talent for baking unique pies, and schemes to raise enough money to enter a pie-making contest that could allow her to leave her husband and start anew. Things become complicated when Jenna starts falling for her married OB/GYN, and the plot also explores her coworkers’ experiences with finding love.
Anyone who’s read some of my other Broadway posts knows that I admire Jessie Mueller, who originated the lead role in Waitress, so much. We saw the show two replacements later, with Betsy Wolfe in the role. While Betsy was as good as any professional theater actress would be, part of her performance really left me hanging. It’s her first leading role on Broadway, and while she has incredible vocals, she just lacked a certain spark in the role. I wish I could’ve seen Jessie or Sara Bareilles in the role, but debating the comparison just made me more excited to see Jessie in Carousel this spring.
Drew Gehling originated the role of Jenna’s love interest Dr. Pomatter when the musical opened in 2016, left for a bit, and then returned to the role for a couple more months. He has since left the show again with Jason Mraz replacing him. As the doctor, Drew was charming, dorky, and gentle, but there was a moment in his first scene where he paused for a moment too long and I wondered if that was scripted or an actual brain fart. Stage actors avoiding being robotic in roles they’ve had forever is something I always wondered about. Reading his bio after the show, I obviously delighted in the fact that he once played Gilbert Blythe in a musical production of Anne of Green Gables (he’s such a Gilbert type!).
Both Pomatter and Jenna’s husband Earl were in the show far less than I expected, which I loved because their absences allowed the audience to know Jenna on her own. Her character could develop and persist over her own anxieties about who she was in relation to her husband and her crush. It was also great seeing her interaction with waitresses Becky and Dawn, who I related to so much. Think of me as a wee less neurotic Dawn. Her song “When He Sees Me” eseentially sums up all of my insecurities about love and dating.
Out of the men, Christopher Fitzgerald’s Ogie actually stole the show, performing the crap out of his big number “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me.” Jokes from other parts of the show were hit-or-miss as far as winning over the entire audience, but the entire house was in uproars during this number. Chris has also been with the show since its Broadway opening, sans for a few brief absences, and I was so impressed with the energy and comic timing he brought to this song. I had read that he was incredible in the part (he was nominated for a Tony for it in the Hamilton year), but wondered if it was an over-hyped detail. Nope!
Like Chris during his big song, many of the ensemble members and even the principals have to move very quickly and precisely throughout the show. Jenna often snaps into trances of imagining new pie flavors, and ensemble members lift her and pass around pies while dancing. There’s a huge physicality factor to the show that I didn’t anticipate beforehand, and it just goes to show that a musical’s ensemble are often more active throughout the show than its lead roles.
Although I’m sure I listened to the most well-known songs when the musical first premiered, I had listened to the entire cast recording during a difficult time earlier this year. The stress of the time weighed on me, and both that and some of the show’s slower songs made me sob. Presented in a visual form, the music is definitely a highlight of the experience. The show’s last 15 minutes or so are particularly emotional, and watching it with your mother – which many other audience members seemed to be doing – really stirs up the feels.
Overall, Waitress wasn’t my favorite show I’ve seen recently (that honor undoubtedly goes to Anastasia), but going is such a great opportunity to bond with the ladies in your life. My sister laughed over my similarities to Dawn, while I got to educate my mother on the controversy around Betsy leaving the Carousel revival. My mom also had never seen a new musical that debuted recently, so she enjoyed hearing original music. So, if you’re headed to New York with girlfriends or sisters, Waitress should be a must-see for you!
What about you? Have you seen Waitress? What Broadway shows are you interested in seeing soon?