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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Adelphi Theatre  Spring 2019 - Spring 2020

This import from Broadway is a light, tuneful, upbeat and thoroughly conventional paint-by-numbers musical sure to please those who want nothing more than a couple of hours of entertainment.

Care has been taken that it not be contaminated by even a single germ of originality, and that is part of its charm, as it happily traverses familiar territory with fresh innocence.

Jessie Nelson's book follows the 2007 film by Adrienne Shelly in telling the story of small-town diner waitress Jenna.

Actually, telling you that much should make the next few sentences redundant.

Jenna is married to a just-this-side-of-abusive redneck sexist. The diner cook is fat and nasty. Jenna's friends are two fellow waitresses, the sassy one and the mousy one. And the new doctor in town is handsome, married and pie-loving.

If you can't write the rest of the story yourself, you've never seen a movie in your life. There are, I'll acknowledge, a couple of details you might not predict the ending is more Woman Power than Cinderella but nothing that will surprise or disappoint.

Jenna's one talent is in baking an unending series of inventive and ecstasy-generating pies, and the there is a running gag of pie names that relate to plot developments, while the songs by Sara Bareilles include several that compare life to pies or pie-making.

(There's also a plot line involving a national pie-making contest, but that turns out to be, in the script's vernacular, an 'Essentially Irrelevant Red Herring Pie.')

Bareilles' songs, despite a pleasing country-music flavour, don't really begin to register until late in the first act, when a comic number by the mousy waitress's nerdy boyfriend doesn't quite stop the show but at least brings it alive.

The best song in the show is 'Bad Idea,' a first-act-ending duet between Jenna and the doctor, its passion and internal drama suggesting Jim Steinman (i.e., you can imagine Meat Loaf singing it).

Act Two is musically stronger, with the obligatory soul-charged I-want-to-enjoy-life number for the sassy waitress and some touching don't-miss-your-chances advice from an older man.

Katharine McPhee invests Jenna with an attractive mix of insecurity and power, keeping our sympathy and well-wishes throughout.

She does stop the show with her big dramatic eleven o'clock number, in which Jenna sings of how fragile she feels while the singer shows us how much strength the character doesn't fully realise she has.

There is solid, if somewhat generic (i.e., I don't feel that understudies would be much different) support from Marisha Wallace (sassy one), Laura Baldwin (mousy one), David Hunter (doctor) and the rest of the cast.

Waitress does not advance the art form as Company does, nor does it stretch its emotional capacity like Phantom and Les Miz. It's just comfort-food fun, as enjoyable and easy to digest as a good piece of pie.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Waitress - Adelphi Theatre 2019