As any geometry student knows, pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. But as the musical comedy Waitress demonstrates, pie can be shortest distance to happiness.
Diner waitress Jenna Hunterson (Christine Dwyer) happens to also be an extraordinary baker of pies, which bring her customers much satisfaction — exactly the feeling that is absent from her own life. For she is stuck in a loveless marriage to her abusive, redneck husband, Earl. And just when she musters the courage to leave him, she finds out she is pregnant by the big lug. Complicating her life further, she inherits a new gynecologist and quickly falls into an affair with him.
Since Waitress is a musical comedy, you can assume that things will end happily for poor, put-upon Jenna, but she will have plenty of tribulations before she gets there. The tale is based on a well-received but little-viewed 2007 movie, adapted for the stage by an all-female team led by avant-garde director turned Broadway darling Diane Paulus and pop composer-lyricist Sara Bareilles, making an impressive musical theater debut.
The show continues to run in New York after nearly three years and its national tour plays the Kravis Center this week, in an audience-friendly production stocked with solid, vocally strong performers very much in the mold of the original Broadway cast.
Waitress is a saga of female empowerment and sisterhood, as represented by Jenna’s emotional support system, her two similarly lovelorn server colleagues — nerdy, easily agitated Dawn (Ephie Aardema) and hefty, tart-tongued Becky (Natasha Yvette Williams). Together they encourage Jenna to enter a pie-baking contest whose monetary prize could be her ticket to independence from Earl.
With the exception of Jenna, most of the show’s characters often slip into cartoonishness, but that does not stop them from being likeable, notably when they pursue their own romantic urges. For Dawn that means her online blind date, a geeky, rubber-limbed, poetry-spouting tax auditor named Ogie (Jeremy Morse). His exuberance threatens to hijack the whole production, particularly with his first-act goofy expression of love, “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me.”
Songwriter Bareilles demonstrates an admirable facility for character-based power ballads like Jenna’s 11 o’clock number, “She Used to Be Mine,” which Dwyer belts well with a bit of Southern twang. As her doctor, Steven Good is both endearingly awkward and just suave enough to allow us to take their impulsive pairing seriously. Helping us to root for them is Matt DeAngelis’s Earl, as despicably Neanderthal as musical comedy husbands get.
Director Paulus and choreographer Lorin Latarro move the action along briskly, aided by an ensemble of performer/stagehands, who wheel around mobile set pieces and supply the rest of the cast with props as needed.
Waitress may not be a great musical, but it is entertaining, as much comfort food as a slice of pie. Years from now, if it is remembered at all, it will probably be for the theatrical arrival of Bareilles.
WAITRESS, Kravis Center Dreyfoos Hall, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Through Sunday, March 10. $43-$98. Call 561-832-7469 or visit www.kravis.org.