Magazine article Variety


Magazine article Variety


Article excerpt



THEATER: Loeb Drama Center, Cambridge, Mass., 550 seats, $110 top

BOOK: Jessie Nelson

MUSIC AND LYRICS: Sara Bareilles

STARRING: Jessie Mueller, Jeanna De Waal, Keala Settle, Drew Gehling

The words "sugar, butter, flour" waft like a siren call in the opening moments of "Waitress," the new Broadway-bound musical getting its out-of-town premiere in the test kitchen of the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass. From these basic ingredients, this musical's heroine Jenna (Jessie Mueller, who won a Tony for "Beautiful"), an unhappily married waitress in a small-town diner, creates spectacular pies that are, as one character remarks, "biblically good." And while this feminist fairy tale of a show, in which singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles makes an impressive legit bow as a composer, is quite delicious at times, it still needs more work - especially in the second act - before it's a recipe for success.

Based on writer-director Adrienne Shelly's 2007 indie film, Jessie Nelson's book follows the movie's narrative, beginning just as Jenna, in the midst of planning to leave her abusive husband, Earl (Joe Tippet), discovers she is pregnant. She decides to have the baby - but clearly it's not a child she wants.

She finds support from her fellow waitresses, not dissimilar to the characters in the diner film "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" and its sitcom spinoff, "Alice." There's mousy, nervous Dawn (Jeanna De Waal) and tough, wisecracking Becky (Keala Settle). There's also brusque Cal (Eric Anderson), the cook-manager, and the diner's folksycrusty owner, Joe (Dakin Matthews).

Things get more complicated when Jenna starts an affair with her newly arrived in town - and married - gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter (Drew Gehling). As played by the sweetly awkward and disarmingly gentle Gehling, it's the type of romance that, in another show, you would hope would work out somehow. But this distaff-centric tuner is not simply about getting Prince Charming, but also getting its heroine to clean up her own messes, take action and discover her maternal worth.

A comic-romantic subplot with Dawn and an Internet date with Ogie (Jeremy Morse, in a firecracker of a performance) brightens the mood, with Morse having a pair of highly charged numbers: "Never Getting Rid of Me," which nicely contrasts with Earl's creepy possessiveness, and the silly but joyous "I Love You Like a Table. …

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