By Beki Pineda
WAITRESS – Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles; Book by Jessie Nelson; Directed by Diane Paulus. Presented by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Broadway (Buell Theater, 15th and Curtis, Denver) through December 31, 2017. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.
You’ve all seen the same commercials for this musical that I have on TV, so you know what I mean when I say that the promos do not do the production justice. They do not make it seem like the exciting, fun, vivacious musical it really is. I totally understand the whole “Woman Power” theme which is given full rein in the finished product. But a lot of the fun is found in the male characters and their interaction with the ladies on board. None of that is explored in the promos. So, take my word for it. The show is a lot funnier and a lot stronger than the promos promise.
All three waitresses working at Joe’s Diner have their specific set of problems. Dawn (Lenne Klingaman) is shy and afraid of men. Becky (Charity Angel Dawson) is married to an older invalid and must spend her off-work time caring for him. Jenna (Desi Oakley), the pie maker, is married to and pregnant by a brute of a man who mistreats her and takes her money. He is so insecure, he makes her promise that she won’t love her baby more than she loves him. But she has a touch of genius about her when it comes to pie making and begins to devise a way out of her situation using those skills. By the end of the musical evening, all three women have found a way out of their collective straits and are on a path to fulfillment. Watching them get there is the fun.
The music by Sara Bareilles uses comic songs like “The Negative” when Jenna has taken a pregnancy test and prays for good news and when the ladies in the doctor’s office use music to announce that they are members of “Club Knocked Up”. The answer to Dawn’s shyness comes in the form of a blind date (a hilarious Nick Bailey) who deigns them destined and promises “You Will Still Be Mine”. Jenna finds that love does exist but is not without its problems. Dr. Pomatter, her married obstetrician (Bryan Fenkart), introduces her to the gentle caring side of love. His unconventional looks and manner go against type as a Don Juan, allowing him to connect immediately with the audience. You’d think this kind of relationship would be shocking, but as it is presented in such a comical yet tender way that you can’t help but root for them. Even big, blowsy and black Becky finds unexpected love in the diner and protests “I Didn’t Plan It” to open Act Two. Jenna’s abusive husband Ogie (Jeremy Morse) even gets a solo similar to Effie in DREAMGIRLS by singing “(You’re) Never Ever Getting Rid of Me”.
I would also like to congratulate a minor character, Nurse Norma played by Maiesha McQueen, who took a small part and made it her own. Her disapproval of what was going on in the doctor’s office was tempered somewhat by her love of pie. She and the other members of the ensemble were so professional that it would be fun to see a whole performance done by the understudies.
The production moves smoothly from diner to doctor’s office, allowing everyone on stage to get in the act. The band is on stage most of the time and enters into the fun with gusto. Much pie is made and eaten on stage with each little mixing of ingredients carefully choreographed in sweet detail.
It’s very hard to equate the woman I saw performing HAMLET last summer at the Colorado Shakes with the sweet, gentle Dawn. Ms. Klingaman went from sword-fighting and classic monologues to belting out songs seemingly without breaking a sweat. Such versatility is rare – even in this business. You go, girl!
You’ve got one weekend left to get to this sweet confection. Trust me – it’s way better than the commercials make it seem.
A WOW factor of 9