‘Waitress’ Serves Up a Masterpiece

Syd Pierre, staff writer

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‘Waitress,’ an empowering, relatable, and sweet musical, is based off the 2007 film written by Adrienne Shelly; the show premiered on Broadway in 2015 and recently played at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis from November 21st to 26th. Both the musical and film follow Jenna, a waitress in a small town diner, as she yearns for a better life, and a way to escape Earl — her abusive husband — until discovering she’s pregnant. Jenna then attempts to whisk her problems away into creatively named pies, and finds herself stuck in between who she wishes she was and where she ends up. Over the course of the musical, she fights both internal and external battles, falls into a messy but sweet relationship with her new gynecologist, and realizes that the strength she was searching for is inside her the whole time. She’s supported by Dawn and Becky, her two closest friends, who also work at the diner and struggle with problems of their own, each lifting each other up in inspiring moments of sisterhood as strong female characters. ‘Waitress’ is a brilliant mix of colorful, creative plot lines which showcases an eclectic cast of characters who simultaneously provide humor and break hearts.

The music, lyrics, and orchestration were all written by Sara Bareilles, a lyrical mastermind and overall musical genius. Her orchestration shines on stage, literally, as the band is integrated on stage as diner-goers, adding yet another layer to the talented ensemble. Her lyrics pair well with the ever-changing tempo and song styles, a mix between Broadway-pop, quiet ballads and catchy, country-influenced songs.  The set, designed by Scott Pask, showcases a typical small town life through simple yet detailed set pieces and animated background projects. A memorable moment comes near the show’s climax when the set and curtain suddenly representatively shrink around Jenna, transporting her from the light, open and airy diner into her suffocating dark, wood paneled house.  

Jenna is played by Desi Oakely, a Broadway and touring veteran, who begins careworn and weary but reveals her character’s deep strength and also showcases her softer, vulnerable side beautifully. Her powerful belt and vibrato match perfectly with Bareilles’s songs, especially in “What Baking Can Do” and “She Used To Be Mine”, a heartbreakingly relatable song Jenna sings to herself and her unborn baby near the end of the show. Bryan Fenkart portrays Dr. Pomatter, Jenna’s awkward yet endearing new gynecologist (and future love interest), and his soft voice pairs well with Oakley’s voice, providing strong harmonies in “It Only Takes A Taste” and “You Matter To Me.” In “Bad Idea”, the catchy lyrics, fast tempo, and chemistry between Oakley and Fenkart provide for a humorous song about, well, acting upon bad ideas. Lenne Klingaman nails the geeky, History Channel-loving, yet adorable role as Dawn and shines in “When He Sees Me,” a solo song about Dawn’s fears of dating. Charity Angél Dawson brings serious sass to Becky and executes “I Didn’t Plan It,” a soulful song about the thrill of life choices, beautifully. Jeremy Morse excels as Ogie, Dawn’s hilarious and relentless love interest, and had the audience in stitches in “Never Ever Getting Rid Of Me” and “I Love You Like A Table”.

Waitress’ serves up thoughtful storytelling, relatable songs, mixed in with humorous moments and inspiring inner strength. A strong cast and all-female creative team bring the powerful musical to the next level, and will leave the audience hungry for more.

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