Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Ever since seeing the national tour of Waitress, I've been trying to decipher just what I saw. Initially, I thought it might be a non-union production until I checked the bios and saw a plethora of Broadway (past and current) credits, so that question was answered. I had heard so much that was positive about the show, I was looking forward to seeing it, but I was not very familiar with either the musical or the movie it was based on.
The predictable (to put it very mildly) story concerns a waitress in a small town pie shop, married to a brute and surrounded by a cliché group of co-workers, including the smart-mouthed, larger than life Becky (Charity Angel Dawson), who you just know is going to have a ceiling-shaking number, probably in act two, and the seeming simpleton and severely annoying Dawn (Lenne Klingaman), whose "slow" personality becomes extremely tiresome, and who meets the man of her dreams, Ogie (Jeremy Morse)thank goodness, because Mr. Morse turns in the best performance of the evening and has the sole showstopper, "Never Ever Getting Rid of Me," which, unfortunately, comes late in the first act. Our titular waitress Jena (Desi Oakley) gets pregnant, has an affair with her handsome gynecologist Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart), has her baby, (finally) asks her brutish husband for a divorce, and lives happily ever after. I have attempted to abridge what happens because nothing much does that is not, well, predictable.
The score by Sara Bareilles is sweet and, sorry, predictable and the cast tries, in several cases, way too hard with it. They might be aware of just how slim the libretto is (book by Jessie Nelson), and director Diane Paulus, who, up until now I have had tremendous respect for, seems to have made the bad choice of having several of her supporting characters mug and "goon" throughout. Conversely, Ms. Oakley almost sleepwalks through act one until the final five minutes, when she gets it on with her gynecologist, whom she gifts with a pie she had made for the original doctor he replaced. Are you following this? In act two things are tied up with a nice, neat bow and we are sent home with thoughts of blueberry, lemon meringue and apple dancing in our heads.
Waitress has been running on Broadway for a while now, is a definite hit, and I am incredulous. The musicians do a nice job interacting with the performers throughout, since they are, handily, positioned onstage. The dancing is extremely minimal and credited to Lorin Lattaro. The sound, by Jonathan Deans, is disastrous. I thought it was just me until I asked my date at intermission, "can you understand one lyric?" She said she could not. The dialogue is crystal clear, but not one song lyric is intelligible. Ken Billington, that old lighting pro, has done lovely work presenting Scott Pask's sparse but pertinent sets.
I sincerely wish I had enjoyed the showit hurts when something just doesn't rise to the occasion. Perhaps, when Ms. Paulus takes a good look at the tour, pacing will pick up, the sound will be perfected, and performances will be honed. If that happens, I would look forward to seeing Waitress again, with an open mind.
Waitress, through April 22, 2018, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, located at 201 SW 5 Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale FL. You may purchase tickets by calling 954-462-0222 or online at www.browardcenter.org. For more information on the tour, visit waitressthemusical.com/tour.