Theatre review – Waitress (Diane Paulus, American Repertory Theater, 18th March 2017)

As the star of the show, Jessie Mueller, leads the performance tonight for the final time, I thought it was a good time to write about how lucky I feel to have been able to catch one of her last appearances. 

It has been on Broadway for just under one year, but it felt completely fresh when we saw a matinee performance on a drizzly Saturday afternoon.

The first thing you notice as you walk through the doors at he Repertory is the smell of delicious baking pies. They have pies on sale; I have no idea how I resisted. 

The hallway is decked out like the inside of a café and bakery, with some themed merchandise available. Walking past this and into the theatre, you’re greeted with a stage set that starts to tell the story – pies up the wall providing an edge to the proscenium arch and curtains that would soon reveal a bustling and busy Joe’s Diner, where most of our story is set.

“It only takes a taste”

The story is based on the 2007 film of the same name. Jenna Hunterson (Mueller) is a waitress in  the aforementioned café somewhere in the deepest heart of southern USA. Every day she bakes a new flavour of fresh pie, much to the delight of the frequently-returning customers. She is in a dead-end relationship with aggressive musician Earl (William Popp) and feels her job isn’t going anywhere either. Instead, she gives herself fully to the sugar, butter and flour of her baking, daydreaming as she recalls happier times as a child when she baked with her mother. Her close friendship to two work colleagues – the positively sassy Becky (Charity Angél Dawson) and nervous Dawn (Caitlin Houlahan) – helps her retain her sanity. When she finds out she’s unexpectedly pregnant with Earl’s child, she has to take a visit to her doctor. However, her regular doctor has now retired and has been replaced with the young and handsome Dr Jim Pomatter (Drew Gehling), who appears as interested in Jenna as he is with her fantastic baking ability.

There were some hot tickets on Broadway the week we visited, with Inside Evan Hansen and a previewing Hello, Dolly! garnering the most interest outside the top tier musicals Like Hamilton, The Lion King and The Book of Mormon. It was, therefore, a shock to discover just how good this musical is, with a plot as deep as one of Jenna’s deep-dish blueberry pies.

“What a mess I’m making”

This is a musical that touches on failed life goals, unwanted pregnancies, extra-marital affairs and the acceptance of compromise. It’s all done, for the most part, with a touch of humour and grace that elevates the more sombre moments.

But it doesn’t just stop there. Most of the plot and delivery is taken or derived from the story of the original film, so the thing that really sets it apart from its origins is the fine music provided by Sara Barielles. The songs are suitably pitched somewhere between Americana and country, perfect for the setting. They are simply excellent songs. 

The comedy pairing of Dawn and Ogie (Christopher Fitzgerald) supplies plenty of laughs and they are given two of the most memorable songs: “When He Sees Me” and “Never Gonna Let You Go”. Becky gets her chance to shine early in the second half with “I Didn’t Plan It”. But it is inevitably Jenna that gets the opportunity to wow the audiences with some of the best songs in a new musical this decade: show opener “What’s Inside?”, “What Baking Can Do” and “Everything Changes”.

Losing an iconic star of a musical always risks feeling like the end of a chapter, though with show writer Sara Bareilles ready to step into the role she created there is a sense of excitement over where it will go. Losing Mueller is a great loss and her infectious enthusiasm for the show has clearly affected the whole cast. With the male leads also being replaced the whole show will feel completely refreshed (Chris Diamantopoulous and Will Swenson take over as Dr. Pomatter and Earl respectively on 31st March).

Here’s hoping the changes to the cast will breathe yet more life into it and see its popularity grow.


A bunch of spoiler-free The Walking Dead articles to read

Annoyed that your friends are all over social media putting hints about what happened in the first episode of The Walking Dead season 7?

Look no further.

About a year ago I wrote a bunch of articles in the run up to the start of Fear the Walking Dead debuting. Granted, that show went off the rails and I can’t remember where I’m up to with it, but the articles are here for all to read.

Here’s a link to everything so you can fill your afternoon with zombie goodness without getting any spoilers (other than maybe ruining FTWD S01E01).

Have fun!

The Walking Dead: The Board Game (Z-Man Games)

The Walking Dead: The Game – Season One (Telltale Games, 2012)

The Walking Dead: Road To Survival (Scopely, 2015)

Top Moments of The Walking Dead TV Show

The Music of The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Weird and Wonderful Merchandise

Fear The Walking Dead: Series 1, Episode 1 (Scott Dow, 2015)

Walt Disney: An American Original (Bob Thomas, 1994)

Walt Disney once said “I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.” Whilst this isn’t strictly true of this book, there’s an awareness from the author of who his audience is and as we journey through the life of one of the greatest Americans of the 20th Century, we certainly see the best side of him.

I’m always keen to find out more about the life of an expert filmmaker and you don’t get much more expert than Walt Disney. Alas, his life wasn’t limited to making films.

In this book we cover his upbringing, early career as a political satire cartoonist, his earliest business ventures (including Laugh-o-Gram Studios), the creation (and loss) of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the subsequent creation of Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies, the blooming of Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio as a standalone company, the break into feature-length motion pictures, the struggles throughout World War II, the rebuilding of the company, his various television series, the creation of two theme parks, his family life and his sad passing in the mid 1960s. Evidently his life was far from boring and it makes for a fascinating read.

The book was officially supported by the Disney estate and various companies, and this means the author Bob Thomas was allowed unprecedented access to close colleagues and relatives for interviews, as well as more resources than anyone was previously afforded. Unfortunately the fact it is licensed has its price. At times the discussions seemed a little sugar-coated and I found myself wondering if something was being hidden. Certainly in the formative years things seemed to fall into place in a fairytale-like manner, with Walt having an uncanny ability to come up smelling like roses. During the studio strikes in the 1940s and throughout the war, I couldn’t help but think a lot of information was being glossed over for fear of losing support from the company. The accusations of anti-semitism that have dogged his name for many years could have been explored and disputed, but instead they simply weren’t mentioned. There are other examples of this throughout and I ended up longing to find out the whole story rather than a risk-free one.

What we end up with is an excellent read full of fascinating tales, but which shouldn’t be taken at face value. Be aware of the Disney logos slapped on the cover of the book and the fact it is so readily available in official Disney Stores. It’s worth a read if you’re happy to either put this to one side, read between the lines or blissfully ignore it all together.