“She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie”
Hailed as the first Broadway musical with an all-female top-line creative team – music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, book by Jessie Nelson, choreography by Lorin Latarro, and direction by Diane Paulus – Waitress marks something of a watershed moment. And even if it based on a film, that film was also written by a woman, the late Adrienne Shelly. One might wish for a slightly more substantial slice of something to take that credit but it’s still a rather lovely thing, not least for the slices of pie available to buy in the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
Its saving grace is a superb leading performance from Jessie Mueller as Jenna, a waitress at Joe’s Pie Diner somewhere in the South in a town off of Highway 27. Married and pregnant, and not particularly happy about either, her dreams of opening her own pie shop (she bakes all 27 varieties on offer herself) seem increasingly far away. Until that is, a baking contest in a nearby county opens a window of opportunity, as does an affair with her unexpectedly handsome gynaecologist.
There’s something a little disquieting about Jenna’s tale, staying with such an unapologetically brutish husband seems inexplicable and the ethical implications of shagging her doctor are swept under the carpet, but Mueller imbues her with real flour-dusted charm, her gorgeous voice perfectly suited to Bareilles’ introspective songs with the climactic ‘She Used To Be Mine’ proving simply stellar. But the characters around her are too often reduced to caricatures, their performances elevating the material where possible but not always getting the full rise.