Slice of Life

Earthy, charming, playful: "Waitress" is a delicious musical treat.

Sure it’s a cliché—a story about waitress with a heart of gold who has a no-good husband named Earl and works at a rustic backwoods diner filled with colorful characters.

On the other hand: Has there ever been a show where this many pies were flying around on stage and nobody got one of them in the face?

I don’t think so.

That’s the wonder of Waitress, the Broadway in Orlando production at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday.  There’s no predictable pie-in-the-face moment—well, not unless you count what you see when you walk into the Walt Disney Theater and behold the curtain, which is decorated, from one side of the proscenium to the other, with a close-up view of an even-bigger-than Costco-sized cherry pie. Just in case the clue is lost on you, the stage is also flanked by a couple of old-fashioned, country-diner pie safes.

Who doesn’t love pies? And who doesn’t love the musical’s title character, Jenna, whose preoccupation with preparing those pies propels the unpredictable plot?  Each one of those pies—like my favorite, her pineapple upside down pie—is an inventive, surprising delight, and so is the surprising trajectory of this earthy and engaging confection of a musical.

The show is a celebration of the sensuous, gustatory and otherwise, with multiple romances along the way involving not only Jenna but all three of her co-workers at the diner—two other waitresses and the gruff but lovable owner. The trajectories of those relationships are as playful and unpredictable as those pies of hers. So is the set design and the choreography: a band and a chorus is tucked into a corner of the diner, taking in the action from the booths and chiming in now and then like a countrified Greek chorus.

There’s a frank, joyous, let’s-get-physical quality to the show, from the choreography to the body language of the players, particularly one peripatetic suitor. But what holds this show together in the end is that in spite of its sitcom sensibilities, Waitress is more about escape than escapism. What conveys that more than anything else is the earthy but ethereal score by pop singer-songwriter Sarah Bareilles, who played the part of Jenna on Broadway.

There’s a telling introspection built into the songs sung by Jenna, played in this production by Broadway veteran Desi Oakley. Jenna is very clear about who she is—and who she wants to be. For all the playful unpredictability in Waitress, there’s no doubt about one thing: Jenna will rise above it all.

For ticket information, click here.


Categories: Arts Beat