2015-2016 was a huge year for musical theatre, with the opening of ‘Hamilton’, ‘Waitress‘ and ‘School of Rock‘ on Broadway. After tremendous success in New York City, each show opened London productions and of the three, I was actually able to see Waitress during its original UK run. Three months after this performance, the world shut down due to COVID-19 and little did I know, this was to be one of my last London theatre trips for a long time. With a beautiful soundtrack and a memorable bunch of characters, I listened to the songs for the majority of the first lockdown and it really helped me during a period of high anxiety.
When I found out that Waitress would be coming to Canterbury post-pandemic as part of its UK tour, I was so excited! The Marlowe team kindly invited me to their press night for the musical yesterday evening and I could not wait to see how the creative team would adapt the show for regional theatres. It is a heartwarming show about friendship, staying true to yourself and never letting anyone bring you down: themes that resonate with so many people on both sides of the Atlantic.
Without giving away any spoilers, Waitress is the story of Jenna: a pie baker living in small town America, who is trying to escape her abusive husband Earl. Jenna works as a waitress at Joe’s Pie Diner, creating new pies on a daily basis that are inspired by her life. When Jenna falls pregnant, she finds herself in a sticky situation as the baby is her husband’s but she is desperate to leave him for good. Over the course of two and a half hours (including an interval), the audience follows the events of Jenna’s pregnancy.
Created by a female-led team, Waitress is based on the late Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film of the same name. World-renowned singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles is responsible for the music and lyrics, screenwriter Jessie Nelson penned the book and direction is provided by theatre director Diane Paulus. The relatable characters and Sara’s incredible score are the main reasons why I adore Waitress. The songs are made for musical theatre, but have such a fresh sound and are unlike anything else in the theatre space at the moment.
The role of Jenna was performed by Chelsea Halfpenny and she was tremendous, belting out Jenna’s ballads across the theatre. ‘She Used To Be Mine’ was such a heartbreaking moment in the show; the audience fell silent and you could feel Chelsea’s emotion rippling through the auditorium. Jenna is such a huge musical theatre role and Chelsea was on stage for almost the entire production, putting her heart and soul into the performance.
In contrast to Jenna’s sadness and heartbreak, there are the comedic roles of Dawn (Evelyn Hoskins) and Ogie (George Crawford). A slightly awkward couple who make everyone laugh, it’s the perfect distraction from difficult scenes with Jenna and Earl (Tamlyn Henderson). Evelyn and George were absolutely hilarious in the roles, earning some huge laughs from the audience. The characters are so likeable and their partnership on stage is electric.
There is an additional element of fun thrown into the mix when Jenna becomes instantly attracted to her gynaecologist Dr Pomatter (played by Waitress returner David Hunter). David played the role in the 2019-2020 London production opposite Wicked’s Lucie Jones and I can confirm that he is still just as brilliant portraying the clumsy and kind character as he was back then. Jenna’s encounters with Dr Pomatter are a slice of happiness in her turbulent life.
The majority of the show is set in Joe’s Pie Diner, but we also get to see Jenna at home, Dr Pomatter’s surgery and the local hospital where she gives birth. Joe’s Pie Diner is central to the production and the staging rotates throughout the performance, so the audience gets to see every aspect of the diner, from the tables of customers to Jenna’s famous pie baking station. The kitchen is where we hear most of her innermost thoughts, learning the origins of each of the pie names; each influenced by a moment in her life. The pie monologues are really insightful and provide a sense of consistency and familiarity throughout the show.
My memory is a little foggy thinking back to 2019, but there were very few noticeable changes to the sets for the regional production. At London’s Adelphi Theatre the creative team bordered the stage with pies in cabinets, enhancing The Diner atmosphere. This was missing from the touring production, but I was thrilled to see the return of the pie-covered curtain ahead of the show. It really helps build anticipation and excitement across the theatre.
Waitress* is a moving and heartfelt musical that covers every emotion. I enjoyed the production just as much the second time around and was incredibly inspired by the talent of the creative team in bringing such a complex show on the road. It is a trailblazer in the theatre world, with this team being female-led and the musical being a platform for three strong female roles: Jenna, Becky and Dawn.
If the crowd reaction last night was anything to go by, Kent theatre goers are going to love visiting The Diner. Audiences are in for a rollercoaster ride, complete with an uplifting soundtrack, brilliantly funny characters and some important themes. Waitress is playing at The Marlowe Theatre until Saturday 6th August and tickets are available on the theatre’s website. If you are local to Canterbury and enjoy romantic comedies, why not head down to the diner before the weekend and see why everybody raves about Waitress for yourself.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
*Our tickets and programme for Waitress were gifted in exchange for a review of the performance.