In order to bake a perfect pie, it is necessary to have quality ingredients mixed in the correct proportions by an experienced baker; add in heat allied with perfect timing and a scrumptious pastry is produced. Just such a dish was served before the hungry and eager capacity audience at Manchester Opera House this evening as ‘Waitress’ begins a two-week residency in the city centre.
The show arrives in Manchester in the midst of a UK wide tour, having been a huge Broadway and West End hit following its premiere back in 2016. The all-female creative triumvirate of Sarah Bareilles (Music & Lyrics), Jessie Nelson (Book) and Diane Paulus (Director) have crafted a warm and funny piece which simultaneously tugs at the heartstrings whilst also being unafraid to confront issues that women face at work and home.
We meet Jenna (Lucie Jones) working in a diner as she discovers her unwanted pregnancy by her feckless and violent husband Earl (Nathanael Landskroner). She dreams of escaping from her doomed relationship and both her co-workers Becky (Sandra Marvin) and Dawn (Evelyn Hoskins) urge her towards the freedom she craves, but deep down she knows she is stuck. Potential salvation and the promise of a better life comes in the form of her new gynaecologist Dr Pomatter (Matt Jay-Willis) with whom she begins an affair The resolution to this eternal romantic quandary forms the axis around which the plot revolves, reaching a wholesome and happy conclusion for all involved by the end of the evening.
The secret to why this recipe works so well is the relationships developed by the main characters throughout the show. Writer Jessie Nelson uses the three main females as the core, effortlessly building a dynamic and then bringing in the more peripheral male roles to the story. So, we see Jenna and Dr Pomatter sweetly flirting in a mutually hesitant way before the inevitable sexually explosion, Becky gives abuse to Cal (Christopher D Hunt) whilst conducting a passionate affair with him on his kitchen floor and Dawn finding the love of her life with Ogie (George Crawford), proving that there is a match for even the most awkward and unprepossessing people. The structure is effortless to watch and gives all the characters time, Nurse Norma (Scarlet Gabriel) and Joe (Michael Starke, unrecognizable from his days as Sinbad in Brookside!) being strong in ostensibly smaller roles.
But it is in the central women that this story has its heart with Hoskins, Marvin and Jones combining to create a rapport that carries the plot and creates pathos, empathy and humour in equal measure. The show is taken into another dimension by the songs and score of Bareilles, whether they are funny (Never Ever Getting Rid Of Me), bawdy (Bad Idea) or tender (A Soft Place To Land), they hit the mark with consistency. This emotional intensity has its culmination in the ballad ‘She Used To Be Mine’, sung by Jones alone on stage, as her small world crumbles around her; the superb performance bringing a mid-show prolonged ovation from the rapt crowd in the theatre.
The Waitress Band led by pianist Ellen Campbell, were throughout with double bass and guitar being employed with particular effect. The choreography of Leanne Pinder allows the excellent ensemble space to shine, particularly during the raucous reprise of ‘Bad Idea’ at the start of Act Two. The movement also incorporated well into the set design of Scott Pasek, shifting seamlessly from the big, open staging of the diner to the more oppressive apartment of Jenna and Earl, creating a convincing claustrophobic atmosphere in the huge space of the Manchester Opera House.
Great songs, great story, great performances and the audience cheered to the echo, The show was musical theatre at the highest level, and I will certainly be asking for second helpings of this sweet treat. A perfectly executed recipe.
Waitress continues at Manchester’s Opera House until the 20th November https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/waitress/opera-house-manchester/
Reviewer: Paul Wilcox
Reviewed: 9th November 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★