‘Waitress’ may not (yet) have gone the way of ‘actress’, but Waitress has come to Wimbledon with a whoosh. Last night may have been Press Night, but that does not explain why the place was packed on a Tuesday. Londoners have not lost their appetite for musicals. The Lockdown has only made them hungrier for more. How satisfying a meal is this production?
Sex and food go well together. Remember the video of Kelis’ My milkshake brings all the boys to my yard? Here it is pies. Jenna not only waits tables but bakes the pies that bring the customers to Joe’s Pie Diner, somewhere in southern USA. She heads the trio of waitresses who appear on the poster, her sidekicks being Becky (a large, feisty black woman) and Dawn (a gawky, bespectacled ingénue). They all have sexual (mis)adventures, mostly hilarious, fuelled by rich and creamy pies, but there is a serious side to it. Jenna’s husband is a feckless wastrel who sponges off her, and is not averse to a spot of domestic violence. He gets a boo at the curtain call. So it is not an ideal situation when Jenna finds she is pregnant with his child.
There is a new doctor in town, and Jenna is not best pleased when she goes for a check-up and finds that he has replaced her life-long lady doctor. But they soon discover a strong attraction to each other, complicated somewhat by the fact that they are both married, and Jenna is carrying her husband’s child. This does not prevent some athletic unprofessional conduct.
How Jenna works through her dilemma is the central plot. But hey, what about the music and dancing, which is the main attraction for the audience at musicals, rather than any romantic storyline? A diner does not give much obvious scope for dancing. This is not A Chorus Line or 42nd Street. The Ensemble don’t really have much to do except swan around twirling pies. It’s different with the music. The tunes are good, the band are gooder, and the singers are goodest of all. There is some great three-part harmony, and Lucie Jones, who plays Jenna, fairly belts out some dramatic ballads. These had the audience rising to their feet with spontaneous applause. My one criticism is that, with the louder numbers, it is difficult to make out the words. Perhaps the lyrics could be printed in the programme, as the show continues its tour.
My favourite number turned out to be the unlikeliest. The proprietor of Joe’s Diner is a cantankerous old southerner, a dead ringer for Colonel Sanders. But when he serenaded Jenna with Take it from an old man, a tear came to this cynical reviewer’s eye. Overall, though, there will be more tears of laughter if you go to this show.