I have to admit that it’s been a while since I’ve been to the American Repertory Theatre (ART). Actually it’s been since before kids and they are not exactly infants. In fact, it feels like they’ll be moving out soon. Out into the great big wide world where they might meet the totally wrong person and have affairs and… Oh I’m getting ahead of myself now. After a traumatic experience at the ART, it was the 90’s and everyone was singing the praises of Valparaiso, so we splurged and got tickets and had to force ourselves to not leave the theatre thinking, “It must get better soon”. Since then, we’ve had kids, they’re old enough now that it’s not too much trouble to stay up past 8 p.m. and we have a few fab babysitters. When new tickets were released for the sold out Waitress I hopped on the web and bought a couple. Given that this morning as I was packing the kids lunches the words “Sugar, Butter, sugar, butter…flour” were echoing through my kitchen in that slightly haunting, but sing-songy way, I’d have to say it was a good thing I didn’t let this one pass me by.
I haven’t been to too many musicals in my life, but I am obsessed with movie soundtracks. They tell a story more than a typical album (do albums exist anymore?). It’s not that I don’t like musicals it’s just that I can’t usually afford them and I’d rather go to the ballet, see a dance performance, or watch a play.
When I first heard about Waitress, I payed attention because it was in my neighborhood at the American Repertory Theatre and I’ve been paying attention to the ART lately because big things have been happening there. Things that make a lot more sense to me than Valparaiso. I’ve missed Pippin, and I missed Neverland and I was about to miss Waitress too. We have friends who are obsessed with Sarah Bareilles. Sarah McLaughlin was my young adult soundtrack and Sara Bareilles seems to be the equivalent to this generation. I liked the idea of Sara Bareilles and pie…there was going to be pie so it seemed like the perfect musical for me.
I knew nothing about the movie, the story, or the actors, I just got my tickets before they sold again, and made my way down to Harvard Square this afternoon. From the moment it began, I was sucked in. Sucked into the story, the music and the characters. Aside from the microphones that I wish the actors hadn’t had. I’m not convinced they were necessary for the space, and it made the lyrics a bit hard to hear.
The set was perfect, professional looking but not overdone. I loved that the musicians were on stage within the set and the cast was exceptional. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Sara Bareilles as a composer for a musical. Would it all be too similar? Would the songs “detach” from the story? The answer is, “No” and “No.” The songs were perfect and varied; the music was touching and funny. It was beautiful, uplifting, humorous and heartbreaking.
There were of course lead roles and standout solos but the cast as a whole were each stars in their own roles. From the guy who only strolled in and always sat at the counter, Corey Mach (I think), to the customers in the diner, Charity Angél Dawson, David Jennings, Ragan Pharris, the singing, dancing and acting was perfectly on point.
The three female leads, were fantastic. Jenna was played by Jessie Mueller who shared Jenna’s story as if it were her own. Her voice reflected Sara Bareilles music perfectly and at moments it sounded like the singer/composer herself. Keala Settle as Becky was incredible. Her voice was powerful and her sass just right. Jenna de Waal’s character, Dawn, had the most dramatic change from beginning to end while still being the same history nerd she started as. While the story could have taken this character towards suspension of disbelief Jeanna de Waal kept it real. The trio together was memorable in song as well as on stage.
As for the men, like so often in life, their little words and small gestures said a lot. This is not always easy to pull off in an ensemble. Every little swaggered step, hat tip, and nose wipe, was noted often punctuated with a laugh from the audience or a sigh. Ogie, played by Jeremy Morse was hokey without going overboard. Drew Gehling as Dr. Pomatter stepped in and out of his role, as his role required, and had perfect timing whether it was for a laugh or serious moment. I really appreciated that the character Earl, played by Joe Tippett, was rough and aggressive without going too far. Not only for the actor, but for the audience, this was a very telling type of aggression and abuse. It isn’t the violent tv show or movie kind of abuse, but it’s just as disturbing, if not more so, and just as prevalent, if not more so. Joe Tippett, expressed this character perfectly. The fine line of feeling sorry for a horrible man and hating, because you have to hate him too, all while singing isn’t something anyone could do. The two male characters that I loved for their roles and for their portrayal of them were Eric Anderson as Cal and Dakin Matthews as Joe. Lulu was played by the Giana Ribeiro and she did a great job of being the cherry on top of this sweet, salty, slightly spicy pie.
Moral of the story: With it’s tricky crust, soggy bottoms, burnt edges, crumbly crumbles, bubbling over insides and endless options for filling. Life is so much more complicated than pie. That…
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