Waitress Rises to the Occasion at the Ordway

Photo by Jeremey Daniel

I know, I know, another musical based on a movie, the difference is this time it wasn’t a blockbuster hit movie that everyone and their grandmother saw. This time the musical is based on an independant film that your Grandmother probably didn’t see. Chances are you haven’t either, but you should, and you should see this musical as well. The film was released in 2007 starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion and co-starring the films Writer/Director Adrienne Shelly. It’s cult success was bittersweet due to the murder of Shelly in 2006. It’s nice to see her work gain a new life and continue to bring joy to audiences. Opening on Broadway in 2016, it ran until 2020. National Tours began in 2017. Now on it’s second tour and it’s second stop in the Twin Cities, it safe to say this is a crowd pleaser of a show. I saw the show at the Orpheum when it came through town a few years ago, sometimes with a busy schedule I’ll forgo a revisit, but I remembered really enjoying Waitress and I’m glad I went back for a second slice. It’s a fairly naughty show, but in a very sweet way.

Jenna Hunterson is the Waitress of the title she has a gift for making pies which she puts to good use at Joe’s Diner. Work is populated by the grouchy short order cook and manager Cal, fellow waitresses and Jenna’s friends Dawn and Becky, and daily customer/owner the elderly Joe. Home life is Earl and only Earl, from that magic mold that so many Earl’s seem to come from. You know the type, the kind that makes people write songs with titles like “Goodbye Earl”. Things go from bad to worse for Jenna’s personal life when she discovers early in the show that she is pregnant. A trip to her OB/GYN further complicates matters when she finds herself attracted to him. During times of stress Jenna creates new pies with fabulous names like Deep Dish Blueberry Bacon, Betrayed By My Eggs Pie, and Almost Makes You Believe Again Pie. While the play focuses on Jenna, we also explore the love lives of the other characters. Particularly the introverted and innocent Dawn who has her own whirlwind romance with Ogie, whom she meets through a service and who is a spontaneous poet.

The cast is for the most part serviceable, there are a couple of really well cast performers. Jisel Soleil Ayon as Jenna is really quite good. There is a song towards the end of the show that really knocked the audience out “She Used to Be Mine”. It’s a quieter song and Ayon beautifully fills it with an emotional resonance that could be felt through the auditorium. It resulted in one of the longest ovations I’ve witnessed in the middle of a play. Other standouts were Gabriella Marzetta as Dawn and Dominique Kent as Becky. Marzetta plays the uncertain and awkward Dawn to perfection and Kent has the sassy experienced Becky down, whipping out the sass and zingers with perfect timing, she also had the chops when it came to the singing. Brian Lundy as Ogie gets perhaps the song that cracks the whole audience up when he comes to woo Dawn and performs the show stopping “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me”

The book is by Jessie Nelson with Music & Lyrics by Sara Bareilles based on the film written by Adrienne Shelly. This being my second time seeing the show, more of the songs stuck with me this time. Bareilles has some real winners here from the truly funny to the emotional. One of the highlights of the production is the set design by Scott Pask. We see change settings throughout the show but the main set is the dinner with a backdrop of the highway out front of the Diner and the horizon. It’s a really impressive look and the diner pieces flow in and out smoothly letting us move to Jenna and Earl’s home and the Doctor’s office. But I always come back to the Diner set and that beautiful backdrop. Key to the backdrop is the Lighting design by Ken Billington, which brilliantly captures the dawning of a new day or the twilight at the end of a long day.

Waitress is playing at The Ordway in downtown St. Paul through March 13th for more information and to purchase Tickets go here https://ordway.org/events/broadway

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