Book by Jessie Nelson
Music & Lyrics by Sara Bareilles
Directed by Diane Paulus
The kitchen. The hub of the home where secrets are spilt, wine is poured, and all the best parties happen. A chore for some, the escape of cooking is a (literal) lifesaver for others, a place to have autonomy and control over the aspects in front of them, where otherwise they have none.
For diner waitress Jenna it’s a safe place – but one steeped in more trauma and reassurance than we initially see. For her, the creation and naming of the various Pies for sale in Joe’s Pie Stop is an outlet from her monotonous life and escape from abusive and gaslighting lay-about partner Earl, but when Jenna discovers there’s a different kind of bun in the different oven, life takes a sudden turn.
Surrounding Jenna is a setting of the best support network she could ask for – even if not a single one can keep the pregnancy a secret. From her best friends and colleague Becky and Dawn to the runner cook Cal, and even her new doctor, a neurotic but oddly charming fellow who isn’t used to the sweet stuff. But one taste isn’t enough for Dr Pomatter, as a one brief love affair spirals into a thick, tricky and syrupy mess neither can escape.
Substitutions with the recipe can spell disaster, but a true and talented chef can balance the ingredients and thrive on the opportunity differences pose. For tonight, the main filling finds both Jenna and Dr Pomatter played by their stand-in Swings Amiée Fisher and Liam McHugh – and it must be said, that the Edinburgh Playhouse audience may not at first realise it, but they’re in for a savoury and perfectly baked treat of indulgence. A credit to the directorial skills of Diane Paulus, and the flexibility of Nelson’s script.
Initial jitters left by the wayside, Fisher’s performance is tooth-decaying levels of charming with a leading performance that channels energy into the heart and soul of the show. Fisher’s balance of kind-hearted, but tired expectant mother is carried well – the indulgence into something ‘forbidden’ all play to clear aspects of guilt in Fisher’s performance, understandable, but not forgivable. Her chemistry with McHugh is tantalising and frequently hot under the collar, but never cheap or tacky. Coming into a stellar solo, where Jenna’s realisations of priorities and fears are clear, Fisher is a star in her own right, stepping up to the mark with ease.
McHugh may not initially capture the dreamboats and hearts of those waiting for Matt Jay-Willis, but there’s little doubt McHugh isn’t turning in a tighter and more nuanced performance. Together he, George Crawford and Evelyn Hoskins demonstrate the agility and precision of Lorin Latarro’s choreography, and save for a few flub notes grasps Bareilles more grounded composition. And though largely played for laughs, both Hoskins and Wendy Mae Brown utterly excel with their respective story arcs, driving the pacing of the piece and channelling their energies both into and around Fisher, Mae Brown especially a scintillating star with her belter number I Didn’t Plan It.
Refreshing as a slice of Kick in the Pants Peppermint Pie, Nelson’s story rebuffs the usual exaggerations of musical theatre – at least in characterisation. The showmanship of Scott Pasks’s set design and vibrancy of colour continue the dreamscape avenues of Jenna’s existential escapes, but choices and decisions make for a natural conclusion within the usually forgotten realms of reality. And for some, it may leave a bittersweet hit, more of a tart than pie, but the drawn conclusions of characters make sense and reinforce the musical direction behind Bareilles’ lyrics.
But as much as the flavour blends seamlessly into one – the standout note, a tender, lovingly crafted moment which changes the dynamic of the show comes in the form of Michael Starke, the lynchpin that the narrative pulls in around in the second act. Take It From An Old Man may not possess the monumental comedy of Never Ever Getting Rid of Me, or the triumphant notes of She Used To Be Mine, but what it does carry is the essence of the show – the acts of kindness and reminders of the generosity and selfless expressions of care.
Sugar. Butter. Flour. But something more – talent. A trio of creative women, coming together to craft a meticulously well-thought-out production that places a lashing amount of soul within the usual ingredients; pinches of salty humour, dashes of crude and lewd shocks, and an extra mouthful of joy. Waitress is a musical with heart, a musical with appetite and adjusts itself precisely to the necessary expectations of the crowd, delivering the perfect slice every time.
Waitress runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until April 23rd. Tickets for which can be obtained here.
Image Credit – Johan Persson