If we think of pie, we often think of a humble dessert. Sugar, butter, and flour form the foundation. You knead it, shape it, and fill it. It can be sweet, or savoury and even sometimes tart. Pie is go-to comfort food and maybe we sometimes even take it for granted. This brings us to the Tony Award-nominated musical WAITRESS — currently in Toronto for its Canadian premiere. It not only makes us lust for pies (yes, sold in the lobby) but it also serves up a slice of life.
Inspired by the book by Jesse Nelson, songs by Sara Bareilles and film by Adrienne Shelby, WAITRESS follows the story of Jenna (Christine Dwyer) who’s a pie baker and waitress at a local small town American diner. Married to Earl (Jeremy Woodard), a self-centred and manipulating jerk, she discovers she’s pregnant. But in their loveless marriage, this wasn’t happy news like it would be for most. Earl had just lost his job and they now rely solely on her wage and tips to live. Upon the learning that she’s pregnant, Earl makes her promise that she will place him of higher importance than the baby.
Jenna is unhappy and tells her doctor that this is no celebration. She accepts the life that she’s been given until she learns of a pie-making competition with a substantial monetary prize and it has her daydreaming. Through encouragement from her peers, she considers entering the contest. After all, everyone in the town knows she makes the best pies around. Jenna dreams about winning the competition and ways to leave her husband. A fresh start for her and her baby is what she wants. But does she have the courage to go through with it?
In the meantime, her coworkers are also finding their recipes for a happy life. Dawn (Ephie Aardema) is a perky character with her innocent quest for love on a dating site which leads her to soulmate, Ogie (Jeremy Morse) — hard not to love these two quirky characters. Becky (Melody A. Betts) gives us an unforgettable sassy waitress with that whoop your ass kinda attitude that makes us want to shout out “you tell him, girlfriend!” A real treat is to see Richard Kline, who plays Joe, the diner’s owner.
There are no surprises in this comedy-drama-romance story line. Jenna escapes her reality of home life through her passion in pie-making. Finding love and the pursuit of happiness are stirred and whisked into the storyline with a dash of excitment (oh hello, Dr. Pomatter). What does it mean to be happy? How do you know if you’re really happy?
“I’m happy enough. I don’t expect much, give much, I don’t get much. I generally enjoy whatever comes up,” said Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin) the line chef at the diner.
Songwriter and singer Sara Bareilles is a big draw for this musical. In 2007, her hit debut single “Love Song” earned mainstream success. She’s sold over a million albums and over nine million single downloads. She’s also received seven Grammy nominations including Album of the Year for “The Blessed Unrest” (2017). Bareilles composed the music and wrote the lyrics for WAITRESS. Search up “She Used To Be Mine” online and you’ll find many YouTube fan videos and is just one of Bareilles’ emotional songs. Christine Dwyer’s singing range is gorgeous as she goes from sweet as pie to an empowered strong force to be reckoned with.
It’s also fun seeing how the cast work with actual ingredients in their authentic pie-making scenes. Singing, dancing, kneading and stretching – serious skills! They must have enlisted pastry chefs to help here.
This is a musical that is filled with feelings and it does a good job at making you feel something…anything from love to anger. Living in a familiar zone only because it’s what we know. WAITRESS is about having the courage to step out of that comfort zone and take a chance with what unfolds. It’s a sweet musical that will make you laugh, make you feel empowered and sometimes make you feel feisty.
If you’ve got this musical on your theatre bucket-list, you may want to grab tickets here in Toronto. FYI the production that’s running on Broadway has just announced the closing date slated for coming January after a successful four-year run.
WAITRESS The Musical is now on stage in Toronto for the Canadian Premiere at the Ed Mirvish Theatre until August 18, 2019.
Visit their website for more information and tickets.