Starring Jessie Mueller whose talents far exceed the predictable material by Jessie Nelson whose book cannot decide if it is an old fashioned musical comedy or a serious discourse dealing with an abused woman in an ugly marriage looking for an out and an equally confusing score by Sara Bareilles (a female friend calls it “women in pain” music) and directed by Diane Paulus whose imaginative magic touch has been strangely muted WAITRESS could be subtitled PIE-O-MANIA.
Recently opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre this production is frankly extremely disappointing. Most glaringly it is the sound design by Jonathan Deans that threatens to ruin what good there is in the production. Even the usually sublime Ms. Mueller comes across as garbled. Many of the lyrics are impossible to hear. There is a tinny sound throughout.
The Tony’s no longer award “Sound Design” which is one of the most important factors in the enjoyment of a production. Hearing it! Are these designers retaliating by deliberately sabotaging their own productions? Doesn’t the director and/or the producers fix these problems before the show opens? I am at a loss in trying to figure this out. There have been many instances this season of this rampant and growing problem.
The stock character cast however is excellent and they all get their moment to shine. Reminiscent of TV’s ALICE starring Linda Lavin, WAITRESS takes place in a small-town homey diner – run by Cal (Eric Anderson) and owned by Joe (Dakin Matthews) where Jenna (Jessie Mueller) thinks up and bakes up pies with most original names (The Pursuit of Happiness Pie, White Knuckle Pie etc.) Her two waitress friends – tart tongued Becky (Keala Settle) and mousey Dawn (Kimiko Glenn) are eking out a living in typical sit-com fashion and looking for mates. Although Becky already has one.
Jenna’s arrogant and abusive hubby Earl (Nick Cordero) takes all of her tips and treats her roughly and badly.
She discovers she is pregnant. And meets Doctor Pomatter (an excellent Drew Gehling looking and acting and sounding very much like Ben Aaron). The doctor is married but that doesn’t stop him from starting an affair with Jenna who is desperately seeking affection. It gets a bit distasteful.
Nurse Norma (Charity Angel Dawson) provides some laughs. As do the pies.
A pie baking contest offering a 20,000 dollar prize to the winner makes Jenna hopeful that this is how she will rid herself of mean-spirited Earl.
Meanwhile Dawn meets Ogie (Christopher Fitzgerald) late in Act I and the show finally sparks to life.
What will happen? Will Jenna win the contest? Will Jenna get to enter the contest? Will the doctor and Jenna live happily ever after or have recurring bouts of heartburn from ingesting all those pies? Will Jenna dump Earl? Will the set pieces never stop rolling around the stage? Will we ever understand what they are singing? Will the onstage band stop popping up willy-nilly? And all those pies. I think I’ll skip dessert. I’ve lost my appetite.
Photos: Joan Marcus
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