By Peter May
Based on the 2007 indie film by the late writer-director Adrienne Shelly, Waitress has been whipped into an expertly constructed and emotionally satisfying tale of self-liberation in the face of limited options. Singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, makes her theatrical debut this side of the pond and supplies a set of songs that have her own distinctive twang of country-inflected pop yet also pulse with feeling.
The musical’s heart beats loudest during “A Soft Place to Land”, a moving, stripped-down acoustic number where the trio of women sing of achieving the impossible. Like the movie, this story is all about the women. Waitress is a show that is not only told from a woman’s perspective but also offers a rich portrait of female empowerment. The men are merely there to service the women or move their arcs forward. The stories of each of the three servers at Joe’s Pie Diner in fact hinge on their romantic entanglements with men.
Jenna, the quiet one, is a gifted baker trapped in a loveless, semi violent marriage. Katharine McPhee from American Idol fame plays her in the same role she did in the Broadway version. She has a terrific voice, each song performed with richness and with articulation between each note.
Becky, the feisty one, is on the prowl for distraction from her aged, bedridden husband. And Dawn, the ditz, is trying to perfect an online-dating profile that will attract a man as interested as she is in rare turtles and Revolutionary War re-enactment.
With its perfectly baked music and down-home feel, Waitress is the musical equivalent of a comforting hug — but also a swift kick in the crotch for toxic masculinity.
At Adelphi, London, until 19 October.