Forrest Gump’s momma said that life is like a box of chocolates, but maybe life is really more like a pie. Whether it’s simple or complex, it’s all about how the ingredients come together as to whether or not it will be good. The ingredients do all come together beautifully this week as Waitress makes its way from Broadway to the stage at the Civic Center Music Hall. Inspired by Adrienne Shelly’s beloved film, Waitress tells the story of Jenna – a waitress and expert pie maker who dreams of a way out of her small town and loveless marriage. A baking contest in a nearby county and the town’s new doctor may offer her a chance at a fresh start, while her fellow waitresses offer their own recipes for happiness. Through it all, Jenna must summon the strength and courage to survive her abusive husband Earl and ultimately rebuild her own life into something that she can love.
Though I’d heard a lot about Waitress, most of my familiarity with it came from the fact that the show featured original music and lyrics by pop star and 6-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles. I had never seen the movie so didn’t really know what I was in for. I expected a light-hearted musical – something fun and easy to digest. I expected a show with a few laughs and a little drama, but nothing that would really blow me away. What I got was one of my favorite shows of the season! Waitress hits the highest of highs and lowest of lows. You’ll have tears in your eyes – both from laughing hysterically, and empathizing with Jenna’s plight. Perhaps it has to do with being a lifelong resident of Oklahoma, but these characters are, for better or worse, so familiar. There’s something about them that you know you’ve seen at least a few times in your life. Maybe it’s the Southerness of it all, but Waitress feels right at home in Oklahoma.
Jessie Shelton, Christine Dwyer, and Tatiana Lofton in Waitress (Credit Tim Trumble)
The cast is made up of a combination of veteran’s from the Broadway show and newcomers to Waitress, but all are excellent. Christine Dwyer breathes life and sorrow into the character of Jenna, while her real-life fiancé Matt DeAngelis plays so well as her on-stage sinister loser husband Earl. Maiesha McQueen and Ephie Aardema are wonderful as Jenna’s two fellow waitresses and best friends, and Ryan G. Dunkin is superb as the rough exteriored head chef Cal. You can’t ever decide if you want to love him or hate him, until you kind of fall for his gritty charm by the end of the show. The rest of the company is wonderful as well, with a special nod to Dawn Bless who plays the doctor’s nurse with the perfect amount of sass. While the whole cast really is great, the true stand-out is Jeremy Morse. Taking on the role of the rather odd Ogie who is as neurotic as he is goofy, in the very short time Morse is on stage he absolutely steals the show. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed harder at a character in a musical, and I know I’ve never heard a bigger cheer for a non-main character at the end of a show. I don’t want to ruin anything, but Morse was clearly born to play that role and does so with hilarious perfection.
As I mentioned earlier, Waitress features original music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, which in turn gives the show a more modern feel as the traditional orchestra that’s hidden under the stage has been ditched for a band that sits on the stage itself, somewhat cleverly disguised as patrons of the pie shop. Most of the songs are pretty straight-forward pop and adult contemporary flair. One thing of interesting note is how at times, you get into the mind and thoughts of Jenna, and this is done through music and lighting rather than one or the other. It actually helps with the fluidity of the show and never feels like you’re being taken out of the flow of the story. There’s also quite a bit of dialogue between the music, so those that are fans of non-musical theatre will find a nice balance here, as Waitress doesn’t rely solely on music to drive the story.
Christine Dwyer as Jenna in Waitress (Credit Tim Trumble)
Waitress is at times funny, sad, vulgar, and inspiring. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself running the gamut of emotions throughout the show. One minute I was laughing so hard tears were coming out of my eyes, and the next minute I had tears coming out of my eyes because the show was so sad. It’s an impressive feat, as most shows will go one way or another – comedy or drama – and somehow Waitress manages to strike a near-perfect balance between the two. As someone that didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the theater, I walked out having fallen in love with the show. It may not be everyone’s slice of pie, but it’s at least worth a taste, because I think you’ll really like it.
Waitress runs at the Civic Center Music Hall through this Sunday, March 24th. There are plenty of great seats still available, including a limited number of $26 rush tickets to all performances for students, educators, senior citizens, and military personnel at the Civic Center box office beginning 2 hours prior to each performance. Regular tickets for all remaining performances can also be purchased any time by calling 405-594-8300, by visiting the Civic Center box office Monday – Friday from 10am – 5pm, or by going online to OKCBroadway.com!