“Waitress” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – October 4, 2018


Broadway Across America – Arizona
ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

Broadway arrives locally at ASU Gammage with the opening this week of “Waitress,’ the 2015 New York musical based on the popular film.  The touring production always equals and occasionally looks better and sounds fresher than the Broadway original.  “Waitress” is funny, brilliantly cast, and stunningly executed.  And, wonder of wonder, not a lyric is missed because a superior sound system made every word distinctive.

Set in a small pie shop, the lives of the dessert bakers and its customers tell a winning tale that defines relationship honesty and tells how the people we work with influence our life choices.  The original Broadway production was dominated by Jessie Mueller’s incandescent performance as Jenna, the shop’s lead pie baker and the creative person who crafts new pie concoctions.  She learned her pie making skills from her mother who took Jenna into the kitchen when her abusive father started badgering them.

In the touring version, Christine Dwyer commands attention, acts with touching and sincere feeling, and sings gloriously as Jenna.  She makes the pie maker her own although her performance is influenced by Mueller.  Dwyer finds small bits and pieces here and there that allow her to make Jenna unique.

The rest of the cast is exemplary especially the two other key pie shop staff, Dawn and Becky who were both played by understudies at the performance I attended.  Dawn is the shy woman who suddenly comes into her own when she meets Ogie and has her eyes opened to sexuality and emotional vulnerability.  Outgoing Becky just wants to have a good time but she betrays her swinging ways as she provides Jenna with constructive insights.  Jeremy Morse sparkles as Ogie as he explodes all over the stage with his wry adoration and dynamic love of Dawn.

As the show opens, Jenna discovers she is pregnant by her obnoxious partner, Earl, and by the play’s end we meet the young child, Lulu, who is now a preschooler.  She was played with cute and charming childlike affection by Harper Wasnewsky.  Jenna rids herself of Earl to audience cheers.

The show’s on-stage band brings energetic vitality to Sara Bareilles’ pleasant score that adds catchy, lighthearted enjoyment to the original film’s darker take on the simple plot.  Diane Paulus’ rapidly moving staging keeps the nearly three-hour show moving swiftly so it never feels long.  The small show fills the gigantic Gammage stage beautifully.

“Waitress” is a real winner but the show is only in town for a week closing Sunday, October 7 and all tickets were sold prior to opening night.  It appears that Phoenix, the nation’s fifth largest city, can easily support two-week runs of each Broadway shows.  For ticket cancellations, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787.

Grade: A