Published in The Mail on Sunday on March 17, 2019
As American as, well, apple pie, this Broadway musical is adapted from the 2007 film about a small-town waitress stuck in an abusive marriage who pours her dreams into the pies she makes.
Sara Bareilles and Jessie Nelson’s musical arrives in the West End with its cherry still on top, in the form of Katharine McPhee as the lead Jenna, with a fantastic, full-bodied voice.
Bareilles’ music is a treat, with peppy, confident melodies, lovely harmonising between the waitresses and lyrics that are funny and tart.
Jenna gets pregnant, reluctantly keeps the baby, and then falls for her obstetrician. When she hears of a pie-making contest with $20,000 prize money, it looks like her way out.
There are goofy subplots with fellow waitresses Becky and Dawn, the former getting it on with their grumpy chef while the latter finds love with a civil war re-enactment enthusiast.
Director Diane Paulus does well to give all three women a sense of joyful sexual empowerment, but they are rarely more than caricatures. Marisha Wallace’s Becky is written as a sassy black-woman stereotype, while Dawn (Laura Baldwin) becomes pretty when she takes off her glasses.
There is something jarring, too, about mixing the abuse plotline with such zany comedy.
Waitress has bags of charm and polish – but also a little too much sugar.