From successful indie movie to smash Broadway and West End musical, with music and lyrics by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, and now on its first UK tour, Waitress is serving up a slice of musical-theatre pie in Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre.
Based on the 2007 film by the late Adrienne Shelly, Chelsea Halfpenny plays Jenna, who waits tables and creates imaginative pies at Joe’s Pie Diner. After a drunken night with the abusive husband to whom she’s unhappily married, Jenna discovers she’s pregnant. She plans to compete in a pie-making contest to win enough money to leave her spouse, while beginning an affair with her new doctor as her friends also embark on new romances.
Throughout the show, Jenna infuses her pastry creations with her anxieties and feelings: the discovery of her unwanted pregnancy prompts the ‘betrayed by my eggs’ pie. Much like Jenna’s blueberry bacon pie, the show isn’t entirely sweet-natured. And yet even with the underlying plot of abuse – handled well in what’s essentially a musical comedy – Waitress is properly hilarious.
A special mention has to go to Scarlet Gabriel as Nurse Norma: a relatively minor character, but such a watchable comedy performance. As for the main three, this attendee’s heart sank a little on seeing that Halfpenny was best known for a TV soap, but any kind of bias on my part was banished by her sweet – often bittersweet – performance. She’s flanked by a pair of amazing voices: Wendy Mae Brown, whose solo blew me away, and Evelyn Hoskins, gleefully ditzy but with such a strong voice from a tiny frame.
Bareilles’ lyrics range from funny to heartbreaking back to heartwarming, and the music is recognisably her, played wonderfully by the onstage band with piano-forward arrangements. The tone feels just right, a mixture of southern American country, singer-songwriter pop and the musical genre. The Americana backdrop and diner set are gorgeous to look at, making for a solid-looking set that changes breezily, and the choreography is light and effective, even if I sometimes miss the main action watching what a good cast is doing slightly off-centre.
Even with the amount of (stage) sugar used in the production, Waitress is no saccharine production – but if you don’t leave smiling, even a bit uplifted, then musicals are probably not for you. Everyone else, order up a slice!
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Tue 31 May
Waitress is on until Sat 4 June. Tickets: £18.50-£69.50. Info: here
words CHRIS WILLIAMS
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