NETworks non-equity presentation of Waitress at the Kimmel Center delivers a production that is full of sweetness, laughs, and lovely music.
There is something so comforting about the American diner. The smell of bacon, the reliably hot coffee, the servers who’s brusk care is well-worn but personal. Likewise, Waitress, feels comforting, and certainly more filling than some other recent movie-to-musical broadway adaptations.
The story, based around the 2007 indie dramedy of the same name, revolves around Jenna (Jisel Soleil Ayon). Jenna is a pregnant waitress in a loveless, and at times abusive marriage to deadbeat Earl (Shawn W. Smith). Because things are so rough at home, she finds support in her workplace: coworkers Becky (Dominique Kent) and Dawn (Gabriella Marzetta), cook Cal (played by excellent understudy Woody White), and surly owner Joe (Michael R. Douglass). She struggles to see a way out of her current relationship and low-wage work. When Jenna makes a connection with her OB/GYN, Dr. Pomatter (David Socolar), she begins to see value in herself and starts charting a new course.
This story, while not new to movies of the last 25 years, is an unlikely source for a musical comedy. Sara Bareilles’ soulful, winning, and downright pleasant music keeps the story moving and the mood light. All of the actors do more than justice to their roles, Ayon’s rendition of the 11 o’clock number “She Used to Be Mine” is a real knock-out. Kent and Marzetta shine as her two best friends, finding pathos and laughs in these vocally demanding roles.
Towards the end of the first act, Brian Lundy brings down the house as Ogie, Dawn’s new suitor. Lundy’s performance got more laughs than I can remember ever hearing at the Academy of Music, even though this critic thinks he could ease up on the mugging a teensy bit. Other comic relief is given in the hilarious deadpan performance of Nurse Norma (Dayna Marie Quincy).
My only real complaint about the show is its inherent cultural conservatism. In the wrong hands this could absolutely feel like pro-life propaganda, as Jenna immediately dismisses the idea of terminating the pregnancy. The truly unethical behavior of Dr. Pomatter is also left under-examined in ways that feel almost as predatory as his foil, Earl.
However, the strength of the performances, the smart book, and the excellent music kept these concerns mostly at bay. Waitress was a perfect slice of comfort on this cold spring week.
Waitress will be at The Academy of Music as part of the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Broadway Series from March 29th to April 3rd. For more details on tickets and showtimes, visit: www.kimmelculturalcampus.org.