This new American musical celebrates friendship, motherhood, and the magic of a well-made pie.
Waitress tells the story of Jenna (Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller), an expert pie maker in a small town, who dreams of a way out of her loveless marriage. A baking contest in a nearby county and the town’s new doctor may offer her a chance at a new life, while her fellow waitresses offer their own recipes to happiness. But Jenna must find the courage and strength within herself to rebuild her life.
First came Cyndi Lauper and “Kinky Boots.” Now Sara Bareilles and “Waitress” look ready to double down. Women dismissed for writing fluffy pop hits — “Love Song” in Bareilles’ case — have succeeded where the “serious” likes of U2, Paul Simon, Randy Newman and Sting failed: They’re rocking Broadway. Excuse us while we savor the irony, which is as sweet as the freshly baked pies on sale in the “Waitress” lobby.
“She is gone, but she used to be mine.” I don’t think anyone, hearing that lyric from Waitress, could escape feeling a rush of sadness and exhilaration. Sadness at the line’s multiple meanings; exhilaration in the velvet, heartfelt beauty Jessie Mueller imbues “She Used To Be Mine” with, in the breath-bating 11 o’clock number from this gem of a show. Waitress, which opened tonight at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, is the rare musical adaptation that’s as much of a sweetheart as its source, Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 independent film.
“Waitress” does a swell job illustrating the shades of gray in human relationships. There are people here holding out for pie in the sky: Gehling’s Dr. Pomatter wants Jenna, but there is the matter of his wife. Becky and Cal are each doing things we could consider morally ambiguous, but their deeds somehow feel forgivable. Jessie Nelson’s book is sharp: “The fuller the condiments, the fuller the experience,” Dawn reminds her boss, in one of her sassier moments. “Waitress” is more than capably directed by Diane Paulus, who started the production cooking last year at the American Repertory Theater, outside Boston. The pie is ready. Leave room for second helpings.