Updated: Sep 25, 2022
This review is pretty late. I went to see Waitress back in July, and I'm only just getting round to writing a review on the last weekend of August. I'm not sure why I've put it off for so long, because in many ways this is one of the easiest reviews I've had to write. To put it in simple terms, Waitress was amazing.
Most of that is thanks to Chelsea Halfpenny as Jenna, a waitress who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. Halfpenny made a difficult role look easy. Her singing talents were second to none - not a note out of place. At the end of Jenna's solo song 'She Used to be Mine', you could feel the audience collectively let out the breath they'd been holding. Spine-tinglingly good.
The rest of the show appears to be a fairly run-of-the-mill musical. Halfpenny is joined by Evelyn Hoskins as Dawn and Wendy Mae Brown as Becky, who both work with Jenna in the diner. They bring some much-needed comic relief, helping Jenna deal with both her abusive boyfriend and her unborn baby.
What makes the musical stand apart from others, in my opinion, is the ending (spoilers coming, you've been warned!). Instead of Jenna falling into the arms of David Hunter's Dr Pomatter, she comes to the realisation that she doesn't need to be in a relationship and she was happy just being surrounded by friends and family. This makes a nice change from many other musicals, and shows just how far theatre has come since the likes of Grease (the infamously sexist ending where Sandy has to change her entire personality just to please Danny...). It's no wonder that the film on which the musical is based made such an impact on its release in 2007 - it subverts expectations. A shame that the writer of the film Adrienne Shelley never got to witness this impact - she sadly passed away before the film's premiere, at the age of just 40.
One small problem I had with the musical was surrounding the character of Ogie (George Crawford), a love interest for Dawn that she meets online. Ogie is largely meant to be a comic character, and the fact that he refuses to leave Dawn alone at work until he's convinced her to go on a date with him is meant to be seen as sweet. However, this scene comes so soon after Jenna's abusive boyfriend (Earl - played by Tamlyn Henderson) turns up and threatens her until she hands over the tips she's received, that it makes Ogie's actions appear more concerning than they should (at least in my opinion). Doesn't the fact that Ogie refuses to leave Dawn alone imply some sort of coercive behaviour? Especially when she barely knows him! Obviously the intention is that it's not meant to be interpreted that way, but I can't help thinking of that, particularly in a feminist musical that deals with issues of domestic abuse.
That small quibble aside, this is genuinely one of the best musicals I've seen in a long time. Strong characters, strong plot, and out of this world singing. A shame that the West End run and tour has come to an end - hopefully a revival will be on the cards soon!
Tom Morley, August 2022