Waitress – review
Adelphi Theatre

Words by: Mike Scott-Harding | Published: Monday, March 11, 2019 10:56 AM


Waitress is that rare beast: a musical with an all-female creative team.


The set-up for the story - based on the 2007 cult movie of the same name - is that ‘Jenna’ (Katharine Macphee), the eponymous waitress at an American Southern diner, has recently discovered she is pregnant, courtesy of her abusive husband, ‘Earl’.


Stuck in her ‘for-tips-only’ dead-end job – and a similarly dead-end relationship – her only emotional support systems are her two colleagues ‘Becky’ (Marisha Wallace) and ‘Dawn’ (Laura Baldwin), and her own skills with a mixing bowl.


Whether singing or acting, the three principle females work beautifully together; ‘perfect harmony’, indeed.

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In fact, it is this pie-making prowess that allows others - as well as herself - to view her as more than just her current predicament.


These repeated ‘flights of fancy’ – augmented by a recurring musical motif (“sugar…”), and a succession of choreographed contemporary dance routines – are also the way that we, the audience, can hold onto hope for her future.


To whit, she engages in an affair with her new doctor, ‘Doctor Pomatter’ (David Hunter). Although entertainingly performed, I found Hunter’s ‘Jim Carrey-esque’ tone a little too ‘broad’ for my tastes, especially when added to the comedic over-acting engaged in by at least two other core cast-members.


I’ve no doubt that the choice of tone is deliberate; all-but-one of the principal male characters are portrayed as abusive, untrustworthy and/or figures-of-fun (the one exception to be explored later).


Is this an example of some long-awaited post-modernist redress, or simply reductive? As with many things, it’s all a matter of perspective.


The narrative – and comedic - stakes having been set up in the first act, the emotional heart of the piece kicks into gear in the second half.


It is here that we see what drives the production is not the slapstick, but the quality and execution of the musical material.


At this point, Hunter’s versatile and pitch-perfect singing allows us to experience the tears behind his clownish behaviour; his duet with Macphee (‘You matter to me’) being both beautifully measured emotionally and technically superb.


Marisha Wallace, with her solo ‘I didn’t plan it’, also reminds us what a wonderfully powerful, yet nuanced, voice she possesses.


Whether singing or acting, the three principle females work beautifully together; ‘perfect harmony’, indeed.


With that being said, the piece is set up to be Jenna’s party and - once the narrative returns to her (after a brief tour of the other characters) - she doesn’t disappoint. Macphee’s versatile, country-influenced belt effortlessly essays the vast emotional terrain of composer Sara Bareilles’ superb Americana-influenced Pop soundtrack.


The set-up for the story - based on the 2007 cult movie of the same name - is that ‘Jenna’ (Katharine Macphee), the eponymous waitress at an American Southern diner, has recently discovered she is pregnant, courtesy of her abusive husband, ‘Earl’.

When she finally delivers her own show-stopping moments, ‘She used to be mine’ and ‘Everything changes’, we experience that Jenna is well on the road to self-determination (if not, true independence).


The aforementioned band is excellent, and is integrated superbly into the set.


The use of cello and double bass works especially well, alongside the more traditional keyboard, guitar, bass and drum combinations.


Scott Pask’s flexible Set design is beautifully realised; tables, seats, settees – and even members of the band – seamlessly being flown in to emphasise various aspects of story, character and/or emotion, as needed.


Furthermore, Ken Billington’s Lighting and Jonathan Dean’s Sound design work hand-in-glove with Lorin Latarro’s Choreography; the excellent ensemble cast’s movement and ‘prop business’ – especially in respect to the ‘two racks of trays’/curtain rails – proving particularly clever and efficient.


The ‘one exception’ I mentioned earlier relates to the performance of the wonderfully elegiac ‘Take it from an old man’, in which the ostensibly cantankerous Joe (Shaun Prendergast) offers Jenna (and us) the benefit of his vast wisdom and experience. Prendergast’s is a beautifully judged performance of a superb song; a song that – in this production – seems to offer further ‘evidence’ that men are to be trusted only once they’ve achieved a chronological time in their lives (and wisdom in their hearts) that indicates they’ve outgrown their boyish pre-occupations/predispositions.


With so much (fabulous) female talent on display – and with a narrative ostensibly about female empowerment (or at least women getting what they want/deserve, often despite the attentions of men), it still falls back on established patriarchal tropes (for emphasis), whilst also relying on a similarly familiar ‘traditional male-hero’ denouement (for narrative expediency).


That having been said, this is a musical that dares to address these topics from a different angle and – overall - is an accomplished and enjoyable assortment of feminist ideals, theatrical tones, and musical styles.


It is also a good example of the need to reserve judgement…at least ‘until the fat/pregnant lady’ has finished singing.



NEED TO KNOW: Waitress is at The Adelphi Theatre, The Strand London WC2R 0NS | book tickets





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