Waitress: Musical Review

Rating: 4

By Richard Barber

Can that really be the smell of warm pies baking as you enter London’s Adelphi Theatre? Sure can. Welcome to Joe’s Pie Diner and the reassuring aroma of apple, cinnamon and crusty pastry being fed into the auditorium via a cunning network of labyrinthine tubes.

Cooking up a storm is Jenna (Katharine McPhee), pie-maker extraordinaire – everything from Life’s Just Peachy Polka Dot Pie to a marshmallow confection that reduces strong men to rubble – but she’s not happy. She’s married to an unreconstructed pig of a husband, Earl (Peter Hannah), a man who, much like a pimp, appropriates her daily tips. And then to her dismay, she finds herself pregnant.

She’s supported by fellow waitresses, ballsy Becky (a belter of a performance from erstwhile Dreamgirl Marisha Wallace) and down-trodden Dawn (Laura Baldwin) who’s looking for love and pretty much any man will do. There’s also the diner’s blustering manager, Cal (Stephen Leask), all bark, no bite and, ahem, dishing up something on the side for Becky; and owner Joe, (Shaun Prendergast), whose Second Act country-flecked ‘Take It From An Old Man’ is one of the stand-out songs of the evening.

When Jenna goes to see her married gynaecologist, Dr Pomatter (David Hunter, excellent), initial resistance – he’s a new guy in town – gives way to gradual acceptance and then a passionate if potentially doomed love affair. So how will our heroine resolve the conflicting demands of her personal life and will she learn to love her baby?

Waitress is a strange confection which goes from strength to strength as the night unfolds. And much of that is down to Katharine McPhee’s central performance. Somehow, in what is often the encircling mayhem, she brings to the role a mix of pathos, poignancy and not a little sass when it’s required.

And she sings like an angel. Sara Bareilles has written a smart score and Jenna’s big torch song, ‘She Used To Be Mine’, may well have you on your feet. I also liked her duet with Dr P, ‘You Matter To Me’, but then David Hunter manages to combine a slight goofiness with genuine warmth – and he can sing, too.

The almost pantomime clowning of Dawn and her geeky new boyfriend, Ogie (Jack McBrayer), though well done, is too broad for my taste. But that’s a small cavil in a production that often wrongfoots the audience (book by Jessie Nelson) under Diane Paulus’s fluent direction. This was a hit on Broadway and I suspect it will be in London.

Until 19 October at the Adelphi Theatre, London WC2R: 020-7087 7753, waitressthemusical.co.uk