By Kathy Flynn
Charity Angél Dawson, Desi Oakley, and Lenne Klingman in Waitress
Photo by Joan Marcus.
Waitress, now playing at the Hollywood Pantages, is a story about female friendship and empowerment and taking what life gives you and making the best of it, as Jenna does with her magnificent, improbably-named pies.
Jenna (Desi Oakley), a small town waitress who gives more than she gets, is trapped in a loveless marriage to abusive jerk Earl (Nick Bailey). She gets by with the help and support of her fellow waitresses, the shy and nerdy Dawn (Lenne Klingaman) and the brash Becky (Charity Angél Dawson). An unwanted pregnancy sets the plot in motion, and the charming new ob/gyn in town (Bryan Fenkart) opens Jenna up to the possibility of something more in life than she dared dream possible.
Bryan Fenkart and Desi Oakley
Photo by Joan MarcusWaitress is the musical adaptation of the beloved 2007 indie film, written and directed by Adrienne Shelley, who was tragically murdered three months before the film opened at Sundance.
As with the film, the charm of the story is in its realistic, messy characters. While the musical adaption takes broader strokes and pumps up the comedy, the plot still retains its delightful appeal. In a refreshing spin on the norm, the male characters in Waitress only exist to propel the women's story arcs forward. Earl is a one-dimensional stereotype, and Dawn's eccentric beau Ogie (Jeremy Morse) is full-scale comic relief. Even the charismatic Dr. Pomatter is far from perfect, he seems blithely unconcerned that he is cheating on a wife that clearly adores him, causing the audience to share in Jenna's moral discomfort. The one plot misstep is the deus ex machina ending which doesn't feel earned, in some ways diminishing Jenna's growth. But it's a minor quibble in a story that is otherwise joyful, moving, and empowering.
The musical features a groundbreaking all-female creative team, with direction from Tony Award-winner Diane Paulus and a book by Jessie Nelson. The music and lyrics, by Grammy and Tony award nominated singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, is gorgeous and enchanting, with an anthematic modern pop sound that is uniquely identifiable; "She Used to be Mine" and the opening number "What's Inside" being particularly lovely standouts.
Photo by Joan MarcusDesi Oakley is captivating in the role of Jenna. Her voice is exquisite, powerful, and perfectly matched to Bareilles' songs. When she sings with her fellow waitresses, the three-part harmony is glorious.
The sets are gorgeous, with the pie shop coming to life on stage with a highway of telephone poles and sunset-tinted sky visible through the diner windows. Instead of a full orchestra, a small rock ensemble provides the accompaniment while blending into the action on stage.
Waitress is an uplifting good time, as sweet and delectable as Jenna's pies.
Waitress is playing at the
Hollywood Pantages through August 26.