WAITRESS – Theatre Royal Plymouth


21 March 2022

2**

Based on a film of the same name, the stage musical version of ‘WAITRESS’ has something of a higher profile than its source material . When it appeared in London’s West End the run was curtailed by the Covid pandemic. With music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles and a book by Jessie Nelson, this tale of a waitress, with a penchant for pie-baking, in a bad marriage has gathered quite a following. I know not why.

Slickly designed and put together the show has a target audience, which I realise I am not one of. This is a flawed production of a flawed show. ‘Waitress’ doesn’t quite know what it wants to be; lurching from the deadly serious to the inane and whimsical, it cannot nail its colours to the mast. At one moment we are appalled by the domestic abuse suffered by the central character, Jenna, and then having hysterics at the extra-marital antics of almost everyone. I say we…. I didn’t laugh once.

Jenna has a background, we know something of her, however sketchy, and her story is three-dimensional for the most part. The problem lies in the two-dimensional characters around her. So, her husband (Earl) is a thug – that’s all we know about him. He is bad. Full stop. Her friends at the pie shop are ‘Loud and brassy’ (Becky) and ‘Meek and ditsy’ (Dawn) – standard characters. The pie shop boss (Cal) is all mouth, but with a soft interior. Dawn’s boyfriend (Ogie) is ‘on the spectrum’ and, therefore, a funny chap. All seem to be obsessed with sex. The writing is one-dimensional and derivative. We know exactly where the story will end up and as often as the irritating voice-over says ‘Sugar’, so the show is drenched in the stuff.

Musically, there is little to excite and the songs don’t really get the heart racing or the toe tapping; not helped by the very poor sound balancing which rendered many of the lyrics inaudible; I am sure the writer would rather they were heard. Sound quality was also poor – when Chelsea Halfpenny, as Jenna, hit her top notes in ‘She Used To Be Mine’, I felt like shards of glass were piercing my ear drums. It is not good enough.

The on-stage band play well under the direction of Ellen Campbell, but the score does nothing for me.

Chelsea Halfpenny is suited to her role and clearly can sing well. Matt Jay-Willis’s accent sends his voice into his boots; he speaks his lines so softly he has clearly forgotten there are a few hundred people trying to listen to what he says. The cardboard characters are performed well for what they are; Michael Starke stands out, squeezing every ounce of character out of Joe – he also performs the best song in the show.

The ensemble are offered the chance to dance in their chairs, wave their arms and indulge in some pieography at times – it is intensely annoying and I saw little point in them being on stage.

Reader, I didn’t like the show. I will not deny, however, that  it is performed with the best intentions and generally pretty well. Production values – apart from the aforementioned – are good and if you like undemanding, ‘rom-com’-type shows, then this may be for you. It left me as cold as leftover pie.


CAST & CREATIVES

JENNA – CHELSEA HALFPENNY

CAL – CHRISTOPHER D HUNT

BECKY – SANDRA MARVIN

DAWN – EVELYN HOSKINS

JOE – MICHAEL STARKE

EARL – TAMLYN HENDERSON

DR POMATTER – MATT JAY-WILLIS

NURSE NORMA – SCARLET GABRIEL

OGIE – GEORGE CRAWFORD

LULU – URSULA BILLING, BEATRIX WILDE

ENSEMBLE – MONIQUE ASHE-PALMER, AMELIA ATHERTON, AIMEE FISHER, NATHANAEL LANDSKRONER, BEN MORRIS, BRIAN ROLAND


MUSIC & LYRICS – SARA BAREILLES

BOOK – JESSIE NELSON

DIRECTOR – DIANE PAULUS

CHOREOGRAPHY – LORIN LATARRO

SET DESIGN – SCOTT PASK

COSTUME DESIGN – SUTTIART ANNE LARLARB

LIGHTING DESIGN – KEN BILLINGTON

SOUND DESIGN – JONATHAN DEANS

MUSICAL DIRECTOR – ELLEN CAMPBELL

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