Diner waitress Jenna Hunterson is an artist. Her medium happens to be pies.
Each day, in addition to the standard flavors, she bakes a specialty, like Deep Dish Blueberry Bacon Pie. And the joy her art brings to the customers almost lets her forget the miserable life she has with her abusive, redneck husband, Earl. Can her pies be the route to her freedom?
Based on the 2007 workplace comedy flick, the stage adaptation of Waitress is the musical theater equivalent of comfort food. Although it came up empty at the 2016 Tony Awards – running into a tidal wave called Hamilton – the show has become a fixture on Broadway, pleasing audiences there as well as on tour.
Directed by the darling of the avant garde, Diane Paulus, Waitress is arguably her most conventional commercial production. While it is not a great musical, it is very likable, and likely to be remembered as the musical theater debut of singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, whose twangy, heartfelt score is a most impressive rookie effort. It plays the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale through Sunday, April 22, and is scheduled for a week at the Kravis Center next March.
Jenna was on the verge of leaving Earl when she learned that she was unexpectedly pregnant. Her life quickly grows more complicated when she meets her new gynecologist, Jim Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart), a goofy, but sensitive and more than a bit attractive guy with whom she is soon playing doctor.
Back at the diner, she gains emotional support from her two waitress colleagues, nerdy, easily agitated Dawn (Lenne Klingaman) and hefty, tart-tongued Becky (Charity Angel Dawson). Yes, they do drift into cartoonishness, especially when they give in to their own romantic pursuits, but the threesome represents a strong bond of sisterhood.
Jenna’s plight is the central focus, but near the end of the first act, Dawn’s online date, a geeky, yet limber, poetry-spouting guy named Ogie (Jeremy Morse) arrives and threatens to steal the show with his goofy expression of love, “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me.” Morse all but levitates during the number, tacitly making the case for a spin-off musical for Ogie.
The rest of the tour cast is solid, with none of them straying far from physical types or talents of the original cast. As Jenna, perky, pony-tailed Desi Oakley is an empathy magnet who sings with a Southern soulfulness, most notably on her 11 o’clock power ballad, “She Used to Be Mine.”
Paulus and her choreographer Lorin Latarro motor the show with an ensemble of performer/stage hands who move set pieces and cast members about artfully.
Waitress imparts a few lessons of the heart, as well as a few pointers on baking. Do not be surprised if you leave the Broward Center with a smile on your face, craving a piece of pie.
WAITRESS, Broward Center, 201 S.W. Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Through Sunday, April 22. $35-$125. 954-462-0222 or www.browardcenter.org.