Waitress," now at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through April 22, isn't one of those sugar coated Broadway musicals. Jenna (Desi Oakley), a waitress in a small town whose late mother taught her how to make tasty pies, has her share of ups and downs.
I had never seen the movie "Waitress," a 2007 indie film, of which the musical is based on. The movie's plot (according to my looking it up on IMDB) sounds like the musical: Jenna has a mean husband named Earl, ends up with a bun in the oven and goes to see the new doc in town, and of course, the two of them have immediate chemistry. Trouble is they are both married.
Folksy composer Sara Bareilles earned Tony and Grammy Award nominations for her score, and made her Broadway debut in the musical. But Oakley, the national tour's Jenna, is more than capable of making this show sing.
Packed with a powerhouse voice that can make Bareilles's score sound like it was born to be sung by someone with a Broadway pedigree. She's cute as pie (excuse the pun) on the storytelling "What Baking Can Do" – even doubt can be delicious, she sings in the catchy revealing tune early in Act One, and heart achingly dramatic, but just right in the second act "You Matter To Me."
Things aren't all sour in "Waitress," with a boatload of comical moments with supporting players – her fellow waitresses, Lenne Klingaman as the nerd Dawn, who has played Betsy Ross more times than she can count in a local Revolutionists revival, and the outspoken Becky, played by Charity Angel Dawson who shows off her pipes in Becky's solo that starts off Act Two "I Didn't Plan It."
Adding to the comical mix are Jeremy Morse as Dawn's suitor. Morse has a showstopper "Never Getting Rid Of Me," where the elfin character proclaims his love to the woman he's only know for a few hours. Morse takes the part and runs with it, and it's a highlight.
Ryan G. Dunkin as Cal, the diner's cook, has some great comical moments, and Larry Marshall as the crochety, yet sweet Joe, adds a touch of compassion to the sometimes hard to take abuse that's heaped on Jenna from the coldly callous Earl (Nick Bailey has a tough role as the villain, and, the actor, no fault of his, has a hard time getting applause, but he takes it in stride).
Bryan Fenkart's Dr. Pomatter is irresistible as Jenna's newfound love interest, the obstetrician who gives up his sugar fast (and his commitment to his marriage – shame, shame) after being bowled over by Jenna and her pies.
There are some wonderful devices including having the band onstage, who looks as though they belong in the diner, as they drink coffee and interact with the actors.
"Waitress" is served up with plenty of ballads, and a lot of soul searching. And the recipe works just fine.
Waitress runs through April 22 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, as part of the Broadway Across America series. 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. www.browardcenter.org or call 954-462-0222.