Waitress review: a powerful and entertaining message about friendship and self-empowerment

Sara Bareilles' bittersweet Broadway smash proves a tasty addition to the West End banquet

WAITRESS by Bareilles ;

Directed by Diane Paulus ;
Design by Scott Pask ;
Lighting by Christopher Akerlind ;
at The Adelphi Theatre ;
February 7 2019 ;
Credit : Johan Persson
4.0 out of 5 star rating

We can all attest to the rejuvenating qualities of a nice piece of pie, can’t we? When life is getting you down, the sugar rush provided by a generous slice can just melt those troubles away — OK, just me then.

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For Jenna, waitress at a small-town diner and the heroine of this deliciously bittersweet musical, it’s the baking rather than the consuming that provides the therapy to blot out life with an abusive husband and a critical lack of self-esteem. She even goes to the lengths of naming recipes to sum up moments in her life. When a drunken fumble with her boorish partner Earl (Peter Hannah) results in an unwanted pregnancy to add further complications to her life, Jenna retreats to the kitchen to concoct a Betrayed by My Eggs Pie.

Book writer Jessie Nelson has done a fine job of adapting the late Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 cult film and Sara Bareilles has provided a tastily infectious score for a Tony-nominated show that is three years into a Broadway run and has now opened in London.

As Jenna, America Idol runner-up and star of TV series Smash, Katharine McPhee reprises the role she played in New York and brings a touching vulnerability to the part, along with a singing voice that threatens to take the roof off — particularly on her big second act number She Used to Be Mine. There are also some nice comic moments with David Hunter as her gynaecologist Dr Pomatter with whom she begins an ill-judged affair. For a simple small-town gal she weaves a complicated web for herself this one.

There is the odd moment when Nelson’s book leaves her a little stranded but wonderful support comes from fellow waitresses Becky, played by the irresistible force of nature that is Marisha Wallace, and Laura Baldwin as the kooky Dawn, who is herself on the brink of a sexual awakening. And there’s a delightful performance from Shaun Prendergast as curmudgeonly diner regular Joe, whose rendition of Take It from an Old Man is one of the show’s most affecting and poignant moments.

Diane Paulus directs it all with a deft touch and perfect pace; pitching the comedy just right but slowing things down for the more heart-wrenching moments, and she’s achieved the unlikely triumph of producing a feel-good show out of a domestic abuse theme

We’re told that the first all-female team behind a West End show is a coincidence rather than a deliberate decision and while it’s a welcome step in the right direction, Waitress puts forward a powerful message about friendship, loyalty and self-empowerment whatever the gender.

Waitress is at the Adelphi Theatre and is currently booking until 19 October 2019

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Photography by Johan Persson