What do you get when you combine sugar, flour, butter and an amazing cast? I found out this past Tuesday when I visited DPAC to see the touring production of Waitress, the musical stage adaptation of Adrienne Shelley’s 2007 movie. This musical delivers an entertaining story of empowerment crafted by an all-female creative team with music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles (Grammy nominee for “Brave” and “Love Song”). The production is based on the book by Jessie Nelson with choreography by Lorin Latarro and direction by Diane Paulus.
The show will be in town at DPAC through this Sunday and it’s a real treat if you are lucky enough to snag the few remaining tickets. It stars the terrific Desi Oakley in the title role as Jenna. She is joined by a solid cast in this tale of friendship, growth and finding your own voice.
The musical tracks the movie closely and centers on Jenna, a waitress and pie baking pro working at a small-town diner. Jenna is popular among her customers for baking incredible pies at the diner but her creativity and bright spirit is dulled by the fact that she is married to an abusive loser Earl (Nick Bailey).
Jenna dreams of leaving her life husband and life behind but runs into a snag – after a night of drinking she let her guard down with Earl and now she is pregnant. Fortunately Jenna has some great friends and coworkers. There is fellow nerdy waitress Dawn (Lenne Klingaman) and the strong willed Becky (Charity Angel Dawson) who both offer her the words of encouragement and emotional support that she does not get from home.
Jenna also get support from an unlikely source when she has an affair with her geeky but caring (also married) gynecologist (played Bryan Fenkart). I’ll admit this was a tad weird since the story overlooks the ethical problems of such a relationship and does little to explain why the doctor feels the need to cheat on his wife, who only appears briefly on stage.
However, despite the odd nature of the affair, their interaction provides the spark for Jenna to realize that she deserves better in her life and prompts her to take action to change her situation. When Jenna learns of an upcoming pie contest with a $20K grand prize she sees her ticket to a new life for her and her unborn child and an escape from her abusive husband.
Oakley is wonderful as Jenna – playing her with the believable vulnerability of a country girl who has let her oppressive husband bully her into feeling guilty for even thinking about leaving him. A pattern repeated after her mother before her. Klingman and Dawson are terrific as her fellow waitresses at the diner. All three deliver powerful performances with vocals that had the audience almost coming out of their seats at times.
Klingman and her love interest – the nerdy and goofy Ogie (played by Jeremy Morse) deliver some best comic relief of the night with their awkward courtship and frenetic yet hilarious numbers. Morse almost steals every scene he is in and had the audience rolling with his crazy delivery of “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me.”
I also really enjoyed the music of the the four-piece onstage band — three of them women. They had a unique sound and the upbeat and colorful score blended well with the vocals. The set was sharp too. With many pieces slowly drifting across the stage during scenes and being turned around between scenes only to be transformed into an entirely new set piece. It was very creative. All in all Waitress serves up a fun night of entertainment is and is supported by and outstanding and I highly recommend getting a seat at the diner while it is still in town.
This national touring production of “Waitress” is at the Durham Performing Arts Center through this Sunday, May 6th. For Tickets Visit: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/waitress-the-musical