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A CurtainUp London Review
Waitress: The Musical

"She's imperfect but she tries
She is good but she lies
She is hard on herself
She is broken and won't ask for help
She is messy but she's kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up
And baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone but she used to be mine."

— Lyric from "She Used to be Mine"
Waitress: The Musical
Marisha Wallace as Becky, Katharine McPhee as Jenna, and Lara Baldwin as Dawn
(Photo: Johan Persson)
Waitress: The Musicalcomes to London as a musical comedy about a woman who works in a pie shop. Although we in London don't yet specialise in the deep dish sweet pies of American cuisine, savoury pies of the steak and kidney variety are on the London menu. As the last pie musical seen in the West End was Fleet Street set Sweeney Todd, it is good to find more wholesome ingredients in the pies in Waitress. On sale at the merchandise stand is a recipe book, "Sugar, Butter, Flour the Waitress pie book".

I was also gratified to see that the ensemble cast looked as if they enjoy the occasional pie themselves, lollipop thin not being the order of the day. Pies in jars are on sale in the foyer in three flavours.

Katharine McPhee plays Jenna, the waitress in question although she does wait on tables, she is also an accomplished pie chef who creates the flavours and ingredients for pies sold in Joe's Pie Diner. Early on, in a comic scene in the bathroom, Jenna's two zany waitress friends Becky (Marisha Wallace) and Dawn (Laura Baldwin) encourage her to take a pregnancy test "The Negative".

Although Jenna is beautiful and tall and slim and sings and bakes like a dream she has dreadful taste in men. We meet her husband Earl (Peter Hannah) when he comes to the diner to pocket her tips. There's no room for shades of right and wrong in this musical, Earl is definitely a villain as he barks orders at his wife and threatens to hit her. They live in a cramped dwelling house and Jenna understandably dreams of winning a pie making contest to escape the squalor. But will her pregnancy put an end to all that?

I'm starting to worry about American men after seeing the egregious boss Franklin Hart Jnr in 9 To 5 and Earl in Waitress. Now I understand why my American daughter in law chose to marry an Englishman but hey, this is musical theatre and usually not known for its subtlety.

Jenna attends the hospital to see the gynaecologist (should that be an obstetrician?) and falls for handsome Dr Pomatter (David Hunter) under the watchful eye of Nurse Norma (Kelly Agbowu). Jenna's pies go down a storm with the doctor and the nurse!

It is the bonding of the three waitresses that shows the true heart of this musical. Marisha Wallace, fresh from Dreamgirls plays quick witted Becky who gives their supervisor Cal (Stephen Leask) some extra-marital excitement. Becky and Jenna help quirky Dawn (Laura Baldwin seen in Eugenius!) go dating to find the comic hit of the show with the audience. Jack McBrayer plays Ogie and his many 30 Rock fans are giggling from his first entrance.

One serious criticism I have is of the use of an inhaler by Ogie to convey his nervousness at meeting the lovely, rosy fingered Dawn. This makes him an object of ridicule. This is the second time I have seen an inhaler used for comedy and we thought we had put that joke to bed when famous footballer and pin up, asthmatic since childhood, David Beckham, used one pitch side.

Dawn gets a makeover from her colleagues and discovers Ogie's hobby is civil war re-enactment so she gets to dress as Betsy Ross to Ogie's Paul Revere. Some explicit choreography sees all three couples getting it on but the doctor turns out not to be the Sir Galahad we had hoped for. Thank you Nurse Norma for looking out for Jenna!

Jenna's show stopping number is sung in her house "She Used to be Mine" as she looks back on her journey to independence. The ending has neatness but the overall message is to rely on yourself rather than a romantic ending. Waitress will please many with its playful comedy and great acting from Katharine McPhee. All the cast sing well although I couldn't always hear the lyrics which is a shame. The exceptional singer is Jack McBrayer where hopefully laughter drowns the importance of the notes. For Curtain Up's review in New York, more plot details and a full song list go here.

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Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles
Book by Jessie Nelson
Based on the motion picture written by Adrienne Shelley
Directed by Diane Paulus
Starring: Katharine McPhee, Marisha Wallace, Laura Baldwin, David Hunter, Jack McBrayer, Peter Hannah, Shaun Prendergast, Stephen Leask, Kelly Agbowu
With: Piers Bate, Nicole Raquel Dennis, Michael Hamway, Christopher McGuigan, Nathaniel Morrison, Olivia Moore, Sara O'Connor, Leanne Pinder, Charlotte Riby, Mark Willshire, Fifi Christophers, Arabella Duffy
Choreographer: Lorin Latarro
Set Design: Scott Pask
Costume Design: Suttirat Anne Larlarb
Sound Design: Jonathan Deans
Lighting Design: Ken Billington
Video Design: Nina Dunn
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes including an interval
Box Office: 020 3725 7060
Booking to 19th October 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th March 2019 evening performance at the Adelphi Theatre, Strand, WC2R 0NS (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross)
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