One of the glories of musical theatre is no subject will ever be too offbeat to become a hit.
Who would have thought a show about an obscure American revolutionary who raps would be a worldwide sensation, and the same applies to Waitress which appears to be about making desserts in a diner.
Of course, the fact that waitress Jenna is a whizz with sugar and whipped cream with their outlandish titles like ‘my eggs betrayed me’ is just a metaphor for her messed up life in an abusive marriage to Earl, and thwarted dreams of her own shop selling delicious pies.
Luckily, she finds a new family and support network in her classic American diner with fellow waitresses Becky who is caring for her sick husband, and daffy Dawn who has never been on a date. Jenna falls pregnant bringing her into contact with nerdy Doctor Pomatter, and a whole new world might be opening up, but as in all musicals nothing is as straightforward as it seems.
Waitress is a modern classic, and easily one of the best five musicals I have ever seen, because behind the sugar there is plenty of darkness – domestic violence and infidelity to name a couple of issues touched on in Jessie Nelson’s witty, raunchy and wise book based on the movie. But what makes this show soar is a set of cunning rock/pop songs from Sara Bareilles, who originated Jenna in the surprise Broadway hit.
Every great musical has to have at least a couple of showstoppers, and when former X-Factor contestant Lucie Jones sits alone on her seedy sofa utterly inhabiting the defiant anthem She Used to Be Mine it is pure gold. Jones has bridged the gap from reality TV to live theatre with great ease capturing all complexity behind the apron and in the meaning of the pies.
Busted’s Matt Jay-Willis is the latest boyband star to make a successful switch to musical theatre rightfully earning plenty of laughs as Dr Pomatter. His duets with Jones on the hilarious Bad Idea, and the touching You Matter to Me are exquisite from both performers.
Great musicals also have interesting characters right down the cast list and Waitress is full of them. All of them make the most of Scott Pask’s smart set swapping from the diner to Pomatter’s surgery as the red hot house band plays off to the side of the stage.
Sandra Marvin made the short trip from Emmerdale to play wise cracking Becky with a secret, and her all out rendition of I Didn’t Plan It was just jaw dropping. If producers of the next Sister Act tour don’t sign this all-round talent for Dolores then they must be mad. Equally good was Evie Hoskins as Dawn who pulls off the tricky When He Sees Me and finds love with fellow nerd Ogie, played by the charming George Crawford who cleverly seems to channel Michael from The Office.
I often think musicals get cheap standing ovations, but tonight an audience – including some Great British Bake Off contestants – rightly sprang to their feet to acknowledge a top quality cast with no weaknesses who delivered a perfectly constructed musical that will run and run and run.
Waitress is the perfect mix of ingredients of all the things that make us human to create a delicious bittersweet pie of a musical.
You’d be half baked if you miss it.
Waitress is at Leeds Grand until Saturday 18th September and touring, To book 0113 2430808 or https://leedsheritagetheatres.com/whats-on/waitress/
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 14th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★