🎭 Sugar, Butter, Flour … Sweet | “Waitress” @ Hollywood Pantages

Waitress (Pantages)Let’s get this out of the way: I hate cake (well, except cheesecake, which may not be a cake). Given my choice, at a birthday party, I’d much rather have pie. Fruit pie. Ice cream pie. Chocolate silk pie. Lemon Meringue. Just not coconut. But I’m a pie guy.

So, just perhaps, I was predisposed towards Waitress, a new musical by Jessie Nelson (book) and pop artist Sara Bareilles (music and lyrics), which we saw last night at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) theatre. But I seemed not only to be the only one. The audience was full — and (unlike many shows), it was full of younger adults. It seems that if you want to get younger, non-theatre folks into the theatre, you simply need to do shows by younger artists they know and like. Who knew?

In all seriousness, last night we saw Waitress, which was based on the motion picture written by Adrienne Shelly. Now I’d never see that picture, which isn’t a surprise because I see very few motion pictures. So I wasn’t familiar with the story of Waitress at all, other than reading the liner notes to the cast album once. But the music? That I know. I have both the album by Sara Bareillies and the cast album, and I enjoy both of them quite a bit. So going it — on top of the pie theme — I was looking forward to seeing this show.

Sitting through the show — I’ll summarize the plot in a minute — I found myself smiling. This was a story that was funny and touching, realistic and empowering, and just likable. Then it hit me during the intermission: the best way to describe this show was sweet — just like the pies it discusses. There are a lot of different flavors touched upon in this show: from unwanted pregnancy to abusive relationships, to the questions of why we stay in relationships and why we don’t, to the power of friendships and the support of friends, to the power of love and accepting people for who they are, and it all just simmers and blends and comes together for a result that is … sweet.

So this is a musical that will leave you with a good taste in your mouth. I think you’ll enjoy it quite a bit.

I’ve gotten this far without summarizing the story, and one advantage of online reviews is I can cut and paste. Here’s the synopsis from StageAgent:

Waitress, based on the 2007 movie of the same title, follows the story of Jenna, a woman who is pregnant without any desire to be, trapped in an abusive relationship in a small town with no hope for a future outside of fear and false positivity. She escapes from her trauma through the baking of pies, creations of her own that she names after their uniquely combined themed ingredients and the events that inspired them, and recipes of her mother’s that once instructed her own baking. She sells her goods at Joe’s Pie Diner, where she’s also a waitress, and this job and the friends she has there exist as her only world outside her husband. The two other waitresses at the diner, Becky and Dawn, are Jenna’s best friends and closest confidantes, women with their own nuances and quirks, but like Jenna, harboring fantasies of better love than they’ve seen and lives that aren’t so sheltered and full of drudgery. When Jenna meets her new male gynecologist and sparks of lust start to fly between them, she’s forced to face up to all the things inside her that are hurting, and take action to change them. What begins as a story of a romantic love that helps to free Jenna from all the things chaining her to a miserable life becomes a story of love in so many other contexts. Jenna finds her happiness by accepting the kinds of love she truly deserves, especially the love that will be there for her the longest, and rejecting those who compromise her potential to feel powerful in her own life.

What this synopsis fails to mention are the interesting relationships formed by the other waitresses in the diner (which is somewhere near Richmond IN — if you look at the background, there’s a US 27 sign, and a “To I-70” sign. The only place the two meet is near Richmond IN — and now you know I’m a roadgeek as well). It fails to mention the curmudgeonly owner of the diner, Joe. As I said, this is a fun show.

Under the direction of Diane Paulus and the choreography of Lorin Latarro, this show seems easy as pie. By that, I mean that the characters seem believable, and the movement is remarkable. There aren’t really large dance numbers, but there is a fluid motion and transitions that make things appear out of nowhere, and make things just be right where they need to be when they need to be there. If that’s not choreography, then what is? In other words, the direction and choreography is so well integrated it just disappears into the story and doesn’t call attention to itself, and that is a good thing.

Desi Oakley (★FB, FB) plays the lead position as Jenna, the pie-baking waitress who finds herself pregnant. She brings a wonderfully strong pop voice to the role, and embodies the role with a gentle humor that is fun to watch. She is onstage for much of the show, and give a remarkable performance.

Supporting Jenna at the diner are Lenne Klingaman (★FB, FB) as Dawn and Charity Angél Dawson (FB) as Becky. Each are unique in their own way. Klingaman’s Dawn is lovely neurotic and looking for love, while being scared about finding it. She captures this well, but also has a remarkable singing voice. Her numbers with Ogie are remakable. Dawson’s Becky is the wisecracking waitress that one finds in every diner. She brings a lot of the humor and the sass to the role, and is just a hoot to watch. Lastly, playing off of them in more of a straight-man role (which makes his humorous moments even funnier) is Ryan G. Dunkin (FB) as Cal, the manager of the diner. Also in the diner is Larry Marshall as Joe, who is just marvelous as a cantankerous old man, with quite the erotic history, who just seems to enjoy making trouble … and eating Jenna’s pie.

Moving out of the diner, there are the men who intersect with the women in the diner. There’s Nick Bailey (FB) as Earl, Jenna’s husband and father of her baby, who now forms the abusive center of Jenna’s life. There’s Bryan Fenkart (★FB, FB) as Dr. Pomatter, the new Ob/Gyn in touch who rapidly falls in lust with Jenna’s pie (and yes, the double entendre there is intentional). Lastly, there’s Jeremy Morse (FB) as Ogie, who meets Dawn online and rapidly become her love interest — their numbers together are just hilarous.

Most of the remaining cast members serve as the ensemble in the background in the diner, as well as portraying other named characters in the show, as indicated: Grace Stockdale (FB[Mother, ◊], Jim Hogan (FB[Father, ♥, ♦, ⊗], Majesha McQueen (★FB, FB[Nurse Norma, ♠]; Kyra Kennedy (FB[Francine, ◊, ♣], Mark Christine (★FB[⊗, Θ], Max Kumangai [Dance Captain, ⊕], and Gerianne Pérez (FB[♣]. Swings were Chante Carmel (★FB, FB[♠], David Hughey [⊕, Θ], Emily Koch (★FB, FB[◊, ♣], and Brad Standley (FB[♥, ♦]. For understudies: ◊ Jenna; ♠ Becky; ♣ Dawn; ♥ Dr. Pomatter; ♦ Earl; ⊕ Joe; ⊗ Ogie; Θ Cal.

The remaining two cast members were Elizabeth and Catherine Last, who play Jenna’s daughter, Lulu, in the last scene. They alternate the role; we had Elizabeth at our performance. Their main job is to come on stage and be cute, and that they do.

Continuing the theme of women-power was the on-stage band, led by Lilli Wosk (★FB, FB[Conductor, Piano]. Working with her were Ryan Cantwell (FB[Music Director, Keyboard]; Elena Bonomo (FB[Drums]; Lexi Bodick (FB[Bass]; Nick Anton (FB[Cello/Guitar]; and Ed Hamilton (FB[Guitar]. Other music team members were: John Miller (FB[Music Coordinator]Alby Potts (FB[Keyboard Sub]; Brian Miler [Local Contractor]; Nadia DiGiallonardo [Music Supervision and Arrangements]; and Sara Bareilles and the Watress Band [Orchestrations].

Next, turning to the production and creative credits, we start with the most important, which were buried in the back: Prop Pies by KSM Creations; and perishable pies (misspelled in the program as “perichables”) by Whole Foods. Sara Lee® is the official pie partner for pies used on stage in the production.

Moving past the pies — if one can — we have the rest of the production and creative credits: Scott Pask did the scenic design, which worked quite well with the diner set, the projection of the road in the back, and the wonderful integration of the metro baking racks and movements. It also integrated well with Ken Billington‘s Lighting Design. I’m also pleased to say that Jonathan Deans‘ Sound Design was very clear for the Pantages (a remarkable feat), modulo the couple two rows behind us that used a hearing aid with an assisted listening device, which as Barbara Beckley often pointed out, means that you’re loudly broadcasting to everyone around you without you realizing it. For shame! Suttirat Anne Larlarb‘s costumes, and Richard Mawbey‘s hair and makeup design worked well to give that diner look everyone expects. Other production credits: Thomas Schall [Movement Coordinator]; Jason Juenker [Production Management]; Nicole Olson [Production Stage Manager]; Sarah Garrett [Stage Manager]; Raynelle Wright (FB[Asst. Stage Manager]; Telsey + Company [Casting]; B. J. Holt [General Manager]; Nancy Harrington [Assoc. Director]; Susanna Wolk [Asst. Director]; and Abbey O’Brien [Assoc. Choreographer]. As usual these days, there were loads of producers and executive producers.

Waitress continues at the Hollywood Pantage through August 26, 2018. I truly enjoyed it and found it well worth seeing. Tickets are available through the Pantages; discount tickets may be available on Goldstar.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Today we had the the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters at Actors Co-op (FB); writeup sometime during the week. Next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend of August will be Merrily We Roll Along, a guest production at the Colony Theatre (FB).

Looking forward to September: The first weekend of September is currently open. The second has a hold date for I Dig Rock and Roll Music at the Rubicon in Ventura. The third weekend has Ain’t Too Proud at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Friday, followed by Paradise – A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy at the Ruskin Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The fourth weekend has Rope at Actors Co-op (FB), and the fifth brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is still open, with only two weekends currently booked, and one with a hold date.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

 

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