As far as I can see, Waitress has been a huge success internationally with various runs on Broadway, West End and around the world and it was undoubtedly loved by the audience last night who greeted it like an old friend, laughing and cheering in equal measure at appropriate moments. Everyone seemed very familiar with the piece – apart from me. Nope. Never seen it, never heard of it. Didn’t recognise a single tune. This is no bad thing when accessing a new piece, but I did have an unsettling feeling of missing out. All the pieces fitted together – great performances, great music, great production, but beyond the clear professionalism of all concerned it didn’t quite touch me. I was, however, in a minority.
Based on Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 movie of the same name it has now evolved, seemingly against the odds, into a smash hit Broadway musical beloved globally. The production at the Grand last night kept the flame burning with Chelsea Halfpenny in the lead as Jenna providing a crisp and clean vocal and endearing performance deftly blending comedy and tragedy. David Hunter has the unenviable task of convincing us his comic character can become be a suave leading man – which he does with ease, Wendy Mae Brown and Evelyn Hoskins offer excellent support as Jenna’s work colleagues, Becky and Brown and George Crawford as Ogie, the clog dancing poet, is given a plum part which totters on the brink of stealing focus from the main story but does provide much wanted comic relief.
The ably talented cast is rounded off by an astoundingly detailed and delicate performance by Michael Starke as Joe whose Southern American accent is truly faultless and who provides a touching number “Take It From An Old Man” in the second act giving the show a much needed seam of poignant truth.
Tamlyn Henderson as Earl gives us a vicious baddie whose departure is greeted with a rousing cheers from the audience and Christopher D. Hunt as the head chef, Cal, gives us a fine comic creation. The ensemble is full of thrill threats of a very high standard.
Despite a couple of odd stylistic shifts the show is strongly and tightly directed by Diana Paulus. The sound is clean and Ellen Campbell leads a vibrant orchestra with style together with imaginative choreography from Lorin Latarro. The show continues at the Grand until Saturday then continues on its national tour.
Playing until 2nd July, https://www.grandtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/waitress/
Reviewer: Peter Kinnock
Reviewed: 29th June 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★