One of the most memorable performances I have seen in a musical in the past decade took place in the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in the first act when Jeremy Morse sang and danced "Never Ever Getting Rid of Me" in "Waitress"! This man finds comic gold in every lyric he sings, every word he speaks, every dance step he takes and the audience eats it up!
He would be reason enough to see this show but there are plenty of more reasons starting with the book by Jessie Nelson based on the movie by Adrienne Shelly. "Waitress" is the story of Jenna who not only works as a waitress in the town diner but also is known for many varieties, with wicked names, of the 27 pies she bakes every day. She finds herself married to an abusive husband, unable to escape and when we meet her she finds out she is pregnant. Her only hope seems to be entering a pie contest in a near county where the winning prize is $20,000. Her OB-GYN is a new doctor in town who has taken over the practice of the female doctor Jenna has known all her life. This new doctor is married and his wife is doing her internship at the local hospital. Though he betrays his wife both he and Jenna are basically decent people who give in to their attraction for each other.
At the diner there are two other waitresses one being Becky who has an invalid husband whom she loves but he isn't able to fulfill her physical needs and Dawn who has reenacted Betsy Ross as she loves history and is a virgin who decides to put a profile on the Internet. When she and Ogie meet, who by the way reenacts Paul Revere, they play off each other so perfectly you just know where that relationship is going to end.
The waitresses played by Desi Oakley (Jenna), Lenne Klingaman (Dawn) and Charity Angel Dawson (Becky) are each first-rate singers, each handling the comic and dramatic scenes but most of all showing the true meaning of sisterhood.
Along with the doctor, played by Bryan Fenkart, the diner's cook Ryan G. Dunkin, the doctor's nurse, Maiesha McQueen, Nick Bailey as the abusive husband and David Hughey as the owner of the diner you couldn't ask for a better cast, including the ensemble. And we can't forget that Autumn Rae Sanchez and Quinn Eden Titcomb, alternating in the role of Lulu, who are making their musical Broadway debut, were discovered in Fort Lauderdale!
In many scenes, it is obvious that the director Diane Paulus and the choreographer, Lorin Latarro, worked very closely together giving the cast intricate scenes that depend on split timing. The scenic designer, Scott Pask, keeps the set fluid, moving unobtrusively as the songs, dance and story as the show goes on from the diner to Jenna and Earl's home, the doctor's office and the hospital.
The musicians conducted by Jenny Cartney are on stage backing the actors, not overpowering them and are as much a part of the ensemble as anyone else on stage.
The music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles are tuneful, meaningful when need be and funny but, and this was a problem opening night which I hope is fixed, in the first act the lyrics were indecipherable though it didn't seem to affect the speaking lines. It was a bit better in the second act.
Though the movie and the musical were written over 2 years ago the #metoo moment in the show had an impressive reaction from the audience.
"Waitress" is an emotional telling of an independent film that did and still does tackle a lot of problems faced today in a warm, funny and moving way.
By the way, did I mention an unforgettable performance by Jeremy Morse?
"Waitress" runs 2 hours and 40 minutes including a 20-minute intermission.