Theatre Thursday :: our thoughts on Waitress

23 Dec

Hi friends! We’ve been busy again. Sorry about that. This review is a couple weeks delayed, but it’s here now.

I (drift partner) had never been to a real Broadway show in New York before this, so this was very exciting. It was an ideal first show, I think – I knew the basic plot and most of the music from the show, since I was familiar with both the movie and Sara Bareilles’ preview album that she released last year. But there was enough that was new and different from the movie that I was never bored, and I think most of the changes they made were for the better. (With a quick aside: I sort of forgot both the movie and show are kind of weirdly ableist about Becky’s invalid husband, who seems to largely depend on her for care and who she is mostly dismissive of and a little condescending about. That bothered me a little, and I wish they’d changed or at least downplayed that.)

As has been publicized, this was in fact the first Broadway musical to have an all-female creative team (director, writers, various designers and such). This is another thing it has in common with the film, which was helmed famously by director/writer/actress Adrienne Shelley and released right around the time of her unfortunate death. This is cool in a hypothetical sense, but it’s also cool in the sense of honestly, it does show. This is definitely a show by women for women about women, featuring a whole lot of women supporting each other and working together. And, let’s be real, spending more than a little time dragging the men in their lives. It’s sort of “men are mostly awful, the musical” and that’s so refreshing. This is still an overtly heterosexual musical, of course; it’s still got plenty of boy-girl kissy-kissy. But the big “love duet” in the piece is aptly titled “Bad Idea” and the actual love song is sung by the main character to her baby daughter. So.

So I think the two most significant differences from movie to show is in regards to Dr. Pomatter and Becky. Dr. Pomatter in the movie is played by Nathan Fillion, and if I remember correctly he is written as sort of a nervous dude, but Nathan Fillion is sort of only good at playing Nathan Fillion anymore so it came across as just sort of Nathan Fillion-y, which is fine. But Drew Gehling, who is playing the role on Broadway, is a tall beanpole sort of dude who has a much more fitting look for this character. So when he got all nervous and stuttery, I actually believed it. As far as Becky goes, they cast Charity Angél Dawson, who is black, and I suspect the role was specifically written as black (it veered a little close to Sassy Black Woman for my liking but I think the character does have more depth than that). In the movie, Becky was played by Cheryl Hines, who is fine, but very white. I did appreciate that the show was obviously trying a bit harder to be inclusive, although I guess there’s only so much you can do when your show is meant to be set in Insert Small Southern Town Here. (I would be interested in seeing how the other roles would look if racebent, but I don’t have high hopes for that.) Becky also gets her own solo, and I seem to recall the movie not allowing her and fellow other waitress Dawn (who in our production was played by Caitlin Houlahan, late of a bit appearance in the travesty that was Peter Pan Live, but was originated by Kimiko Glenn, late of the touring cast of Spring Awakening and also Orange is the New Black; the former was very cute and charming, but having seen the latter as nerdbaby Thea I would have absolutely loved to see her as nerdbaby Dawn) to get a ton of screentime, so this did flesh them out a little more.

Anyway. It’s a very charming score, too, and while I’ll admit that back at that Sara Bareilles concert we went to I had a slight pang of fear when she said “I’m writing a Broadway musical” because that can be dangerous and scary I was immediately assuaged by (her belting out “Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors and) her performance of the big ol’ eleven o’clock number “She Used to Be Mine.” Which, I don’t often cry but I spent about from that song through the end of the show getting periodically misty-eyed and then chastising myself. (Tears of complicated emotions about that song? Okay. Tears of sentimentality about an old guy waving? More than I was prepared to give. This is a compliment, but I was still mad at myself.) Having suffered through more than my fair share of touring jukebox musicals, my assumption lately has been “pop musicals are often dangerous.” This honestly felt equal parts pop and Broadway to me, though. It was a musical written by a pop star who grew up on musicals. Most of Sara Bareilles’ songs sound halfway like showtunes anyway, with the piano and declarative intention, so it worked. Works. It’s charming. And while I love her album of the songs, it was so cool hearing them with different voices, harmonies, etcetera.

As mentioned above, this is a show about terrible men. Our protagonist Jenna has an abusive husband who she ultimately kicks to the curb in a moment of pure triumph; she also has an affair with the above-mentioned doctor, who himself is having an affair. The diner’s owner, while sweet to Jenna, is cantankerous at best; the diner’s cook is almost stereotypically foul. And then there is Ogie, played for us by Christopher Fitzgerald, late of the original cast of Wicked where he played Boq who in the stage version at least is… essentially the same dude. (I just started rereading this book and was reminded what different creatures show and book Boq are from each other, but that’s neither here nor there.) This is the one part of the show/movie that I (drift partner) really dislike (let’s be real, we both dislike it), because the progression of events goes like this: Dawn is sad and wants to find a date, so she sets up an online profile. She goes on a date, but the guy turns out to be kind of a weirdo who’s obsessed with her and comes to her workplace to try and wheedle her into another date. She tells him to go away, but he doesn’t go away, he just keeps coming back to tell her he loves her. This is a nightmare scenario for most (all?) women, but eventually she decides his incessant attentions are…charming, I guess? And then they fall in love. This is the plot of many bad romance novels or romcoms and it is also a terrible story that everybody should stop telling forever, because it encourages dudes who think if they can just ask a girl in the right way, or enough times, she’ll go out with him. Ew, ew, ew. So he gets a song in the musical, which is kind of funny I guess if you ignore the context? Fitzgerald was certainly having a good time, and he gets a tapdancing solo which is fun. Our audience was eating this up. But it is still a bad concept and a bad subplot and I don’t like it. (The only good thing about this subplot, in my opinion, is the joke about how both characters do Revolutionary War reenactments and bond over this… sexually. But that’s a good joke because it’s funny and it doesn’t have to involve the rest of the subplot. It could just be two nerds who bonded over that without the baggage, if you want to ignore the rest of it.)

The set was also pretty neat, because the stage was initially bare and everything was on wheels. They worked the sets into the choreography, so actors would push them on and offstage while entering and exiting. I don’t know that I know of too many other shows that do something like that, so that was pretty neat to watch. I know for a lot of Broadway shows the set is sort of supposed to be a character by itself, so I think for this show that setup worked really well.

I enjoyed myself immensely and am probably going to check out the OBC when I have an opportunity. I hope this goes on tour because I’d definitely see it again.

–your fangirl heroines.

always20have20a20smile20for20you

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