I don’t understand why people complain about creative works crossing from one medium to another—it’s an old tradition that has produced both artistic masterpieces and popular hits, and if the result is good, it’s good. Still, Waitress: The Musical may have taken a more circuitous than usual path: it first saw light as the 2007 indie film Waitress, written and directed by Adrienne Shelley. In 2015 it was adapted as a musical with a book by Jessie Nelson and music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles. The musical was a hit on Broadway, running for four years before the pandemic forced the theatres to close, and when Broadway reopened in 2021, it was one of the first plays revived. The movie Waitress: The Musical is a filmed production of the revival staging of the musical, with Bareilles taking over the lead role.
Jenna (Bareilles) is a waitress and pie maker trapped in an abusive marriage in a nowhere town with a job that barely keeps her head above water. Her creative outlet is inventing new types of pie with names like “Mermaid Meringue” and “Betrayed by My Eggs” that everyone agrees are to die for. When she hears about a pie-baking contest offering a substantial cash prize, she thinks that might just be her ticket to a better life, one in which she can dump her loser husband Earl (Joe Tippett) and open her own pie shop. Then she learns she’s pregnant and has a decision to make—or actually two, since she also finds herself attracted to her hot new gynecologist (Drew Gehling), and the feeling is mutual.
There’s strong female energy running through Waitress: The Musical, beginning with the fact that it was the first Broadway production in which the top four creative spots were filled by women. Besides Bareilles as lyricist and composer and Nelson as book author, the stage production was directed by Diane Paulus and choreographed by Lorin Latarro. The action is also female-centric, with Jenna forming an unofficial support group and created family with her fellow waitresses Dawn (Caitlin Houlahan) and Becky (Charity Dawson), who exchange advice and cheer each other on through life’s obstacle course. Also noteworthy: the treatment of pregnancy is unlike any I’ve seen before, on screen or otherwise. The male cast members each get their moment but are clearly supporting players to the women’s stories: they include the diner’s head cook, Cal (Eric Anderson), the owner and resident curmudgeon Joe (Dakin Matthews) and the nerdy but endearing Ogie (Christopher Fitzgerald).
If you don’t like musicals, this is a film to skip. If you’re a purist who can’t stand the idea of watching a filmed performance of a play, ditto. But if you like musicals and have an open mind as to how you consume them, this is a movie you’ll want to see, because it combines the feeling of being in a Broadway audience with the advantages of a filmed performance that is preserved for posterity and can be viewed without buying a plane ticket to New York.
Waitress: The Musical is not trying to pass for an intended-from-the-start-as-a-movie movie: there’s no attempt to “open it up” and the camera work is pretty basic, while you see set changes and such as you would in the theatre. Much of the time you see the entire stage, as you would were you in the audience for a live performance (sometimes including silhouettes of people in the front row). That’s exactly the feel this movie is going for, and it offers you a chance to see a Broadway performance of a musical which is the real deal, with tuneful songs, artful staging, expert choreography, and outstanding performances by the actors. | Sarah Boslaugh
Waitress: The Musical will be in theatres for five nights, beginning Dec. 7.