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'It Only Takes a Taste' to Fall in Love With The National Tour of Waitress

Updated: Sep 18, 2019

The hit musical is soul food you can sink your teeth into; sweet, with a light crust and a heart-warming centre.

On July 9th, the National Tour of Waitress began its run at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre. The acclaimed musical, based on the film of the same name, has a score written by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, which is accompanied by a stunning book written by Jessie Nelson.

Waitress follows the story of Jenna Hunterson, a waitress and pie maker, who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant while stuck in an unhappy marriage. When a pie baking contest comes to a nearby town, she realizes that she has a chance to build a better life for herself and her unborn child.

Jenna’s story was originally written by Adrienne Shelley, but has been adapted for the stage by Jessie Nelson. The book is extremely strong, balancing light comedy and tenderness while masterfully handling the delicate topic of abusive relationships. Nelson tackles the harsh reality of Jenna’s situation while weaving in light comedy, and supportive friendships from well-rounded female characters. They say that art often imitates life, and this musical is a testament to that statement. To get through life, we turn to each other, foster our dreams, and rely on laughter to pull us through, and that is what makes Waitress so universal.

The book works hand in hand with Sara Bareilles’ iconic score. Bareilles’s signature sound is a light dusting of flour over what is a delectable Broadway score. The onstage band plays through music that captures small town life, and provides a beautiful way to express the longing of wanting more, as well as finding the joy of community. Bareilles navigates the score with ease, serving the story with moving emotional ballads, quirky character songs, and romantic duets.

Together, the book and the music mix perfectly to create a show that is highly entertaining, heart-warming and uplifting.

Christine Dwyer gives a tour de force performance as Jenna Hunterson; emotionally complex and wonderfully human. She handles multiple vocal stylings with ease and gracefully navigates Jenna’s emotional journey through sublime physicality. Over the course of the show, the audience witnesses Jenna grow from someone who has accepted how things are, to someone who refuses to be just “happy enough”. Dwyer’s performance of She Used to Be Mine, the show’s eleven o’clock number, was absolutely stunning and received thunderous applause.

Ephie Aardema and Melody A. Betts play alongside Dwyer as Dawn (Aardema) and Becky (Betts), fellow waitresses and Jenna’s friends. These two characters provide both the lighter side of the story, as well as embodying the theme of chosen family. The three women at the heart of the show are incredibly different, and seeing their friendship take centre stage was both touching and refreshing. The quirky Dawn and brassy Becky provide two wonderful contrasts to Jenna, and Aardema and Betts have incredible chemistry with Dwyer. Aardema masters physical comedy and character voice, and Betts pairs her comedic timing with vocal chops. The two actresses live fully as their characters, and quickly became audience favourites.

In the role of Jenna’s husband, Earl, Jeremy Woodard gives a stellar performance. Playing the villain of the piece is always difficult, especially one who does not receive a redemption arc, but Woodard provides an accurate portrayal, at times appearing too real for comfort. His chilling turn as Earl provides the gravitas of Jenna’s situation, and he and Dwyer present this relationship onstage in an accurate way.

Waitress has a lovable, albeit quirky cast of characters, much like any small town, and this production had no shortage of standout performances within these roles. Comedic timing is key in this production, and this cast serves the lighthearted banter and witty repartee with ease. Dawn Bless stole the show as Nurse Norma, through snappy one liners and glorious facial expressions. The king of comedic timing was Jeremy Morse, whose portrayal of Ogie, Dawn’s enthusiastic suitor. Morse leaps onstage with great energy which only seems to increase as the show progresses, leaving the audience speechless with amazement. Mixing comedy with the show’s warm heart are Richard Kline as Old Joe and Steven Good as Dr. Pomatter, characters who help Jenna find her new path. Kline gives a touching performance, gruff but lovable diner owner, and leaving audiences touched. As Dr. Pomatter, Steven Good oozes charisma and humour, alongside swoon-worthy vocals.

Waitress has a strong sense of community, and the incredible ensemble embodies this every step of the way. This show is an ensemble piece and the group works together as they effortlessly take on multiple roles within the piece, as well as mastering Lorin Lattaro’s gorgeous choreography. The cast brings a beautiful energy to the show, embracing the audience and welcoming them to the diner and into the story.

Joe’s Pie Diner is the main setting for this story, its bright colours and nostalgic theme giving it a comfortable air and making the audience feel at home. The space is often full with various members of the company, who aid the seamless set changes. Beautiful pies are displayed on either side of the stage, a gentle reminder of the hope they represent to Jenna. Every detail to the technical design for this show is lovingly placed; and the lighting design by Ken Billington is incredible. The lighting sets the scene perfectly, from warm and inviting in the diner, peaceful in the kitchen, and gloomy within the Hunterson household. As Jenna’s journey progresses towards brighter days, so does the lighting, painting the bright future waiting for her.

I have never been so instantly touched by a musical. From its opening notes, Waitress reaches out with open arms, inviting the audience to join the characters inside Joe’s Pie Diner. The show handles heavy subject matter, but still provides a ‘soft place to land’ through light comedy, wonderful characters, and a heartfelt message.

At a crucial point in the musical, Jenna speaks to her unborn child, “I hope that one day, you find someone who will hold you for twenty minutes straight” and that is the best way I can describe my trip to Waitress.

Waitress is onstage at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto until August 18th, marking the end of the tour’s triumphant run. I highly recommend booking your tickets to this glorious show as soon as possible!

For more information, be sure to check out the Mirvish website.

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