Friday 8 March 2019

Waitress @ The Adelphi Theatre

Waitress @ The Adelphi Theatre

It takes a while to get into Waitress. Finally landing in the West End after its Broadway debut in 2016, it is Cath Kidston The Musical, a sugary sweet confection in shades of pastel. It's twee and cute and trying oh so hard to be relatable.

The story is gently feminist. Jenna, the titular waitress (Katharine McPhee), is an ordinary woman and her fellow waitresses Becky (Marisha Wallace) and Dawn (Laura Baldwin) discuss their ordinary problems: marriage, dating, pregnancy, drooping breasts. Jenna dreams of winning a bakery contest so she can leave her abusive husband and follow her dream. It's a show about sisterhood and motherhood and being your authentic weirdo self - all worthy themes.

Yet the delivery is lighter and fluffier than a sponge cake. It means the stakes never feel too high. It is the plight of the everywoman, as dramatic as a 90s rom-com. There's a meet-cute with a boyish gynecologist, a saccharine romantic sub-plot with the cartoonish secondary characters, a gruff old man who's really a big softy. There's never any doubt of a happy ending.

The more you taste, though, the more palatable it becomes. The sugar rush erodes the walls of cynicism to reveal a wholesome centre that oozes out like bittersweet chocolate. The inevitable big climax is full of flavour and you're left sobbing at the end at the sheer loveliness of it all.

Much of that is due to the score from singer-songwriter Sarah Bareilles. Uptempo, piano-driven love songs are instantly recognisable as her work and the infectious hooks will ensure each song becomes a theatre school audition staple. McPhee's voice is well suited to the role and it's clear that she's the main draw for much of the audience. It's soft and light with a beautiful tone that flutters with trilling melisma, her pop style making up for a lack of diction. When she sings "She Used To Be Mine" she has us all in the palm of her flour dusted hands.

She's joined by some wonderful performances by the rest of the cast. Together with Wallace and Baldwin they make a great comic trio, with voices that blend in subtle harmonies. Comedy actor Jack McBrayer, best known for his role in 30 Rock, threatens to steal the show from McPhee as the geeky and eccentric Ogie, while David Hunter proves his vocal chops as the romantic lead Dr. Pomatter.

The band are mostly on-stage, giving an intimate chamber musical feel that suggests perhaps the small scale drama of Waitress would be better suited to a smaller theatre. Yet like the smell of a freshly baked pie, the lure of the show is irresistible. You'll lap up every crumb, leaving your heart as satisfied as your belly.


Watch: Waitress runs at the Adelphi Theatre until October 2019.

Waitress @ The Adelphi Theatre

Waitress @ The Adelphi Theatre

Photos: Johan Persson