Pies, Pies, Wonderful Pies

New Broadway Show Bakes Up One Entertaining Recipe

By Lori Simmons Zelenko

“Sugar”…sung like a chorus sweet, memorable and enticing, wafts throughout WAITRESS the warmest, most engaging musical on Broadway. “What’s Inside” hauntingly opens the show – sugar, flour, butter and so much more are the ingredients of this perfectly baked new show starring Jesse Mueller (who won a Tony for her role in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) as Jenna, the winsome waitress looking for a way out of her unhappy marriage as she bakes pies with abandon – and dubs them with her quirky perceptions of the day.

The score by Sara Bareilles is as fluffy as the buttery pie crusts we nearly taste, blueberry bacon pie anyone? A little bit country (after all WAITRESS is about a small town Southern girl), a little bit Broadway the music weaves through the story sometimes tart and tasty at others wistful and sweet but always enjoyable.

Your heart goes out to Jenna (Jesse Mueller truly makes you care about her). How can you not sympathize with this genuine, loving woman married to a lout (Earl – played by Nick Cordero as a memorably insensitive husband) – and pregnant by him too? Wouldn’t you want to find a blissful avenue for your frustrations? Well, what’s better therapy than baking pies?

Jesse Mueller’s rich, heartfelt performance lifts Jenna out of any possibility of a pity party; giving her strength and hope, love and determination to bake, bake, bake until her baby is born and her life is better. There’s no way not to be on board with Jenna, it’s as simple and plain as the duet with her lover, “You Matter to Me.” What woman doesn’t hope for a listening ear? A kind heart? A caring partner? And why shouldn’t she take charge of her life and try to find it? Or as the song “I Didn’t Plan It” says, she’s “taking back what’s been taken for granted.”

Jenna may be alone in her loveless marriage but she’s not entirely without a support system. Her buddies, fellow waitresses, the exuberant Becky (played by the vital yet still vulnerable Keala Settle) and nerdy Dawn (a very funny Kimiko Glenn), urge her on to bake her way to freedom from a life that’s been holding her back.

These two lively ladies discover that romance comes in unlikely partners – though at first the pairings may seem as disparate a combination as some of the ingredients in Jenna’s pies, but by the time each bites into the chance at a relationship you can see why each of them has such an appetite for their partners. Becky connects with Cal (Eric Anderson) the gruff manager of the diner where they all work; their foreplay is fierce insults passionately tossed at one another. And Dawn is swept away by the geeky adoration of Ogie (Christopher Fitzgerald) who professes his love with the wonderfully over the top “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me.” Watching these two realize they’ve found their soulmates is funny, poignant and yes, rewarding. You root for each of these empowered women to pursue their dreams and find what they’re searching for…though the struggle is hardest for Jenna, the smaller tribulations of her pals lighten the load.

Along the way, Jenna finds love – and shares some of her most deliciously witty (and even sinfully delicious) pies – with her doctor, the man who’ll be delivering her baby to be (an undeniably sexy in a boyish way, Drew Gheling as Doctor Pomatter). Though as one of the best and catchiest songs in the show captures it, “it’s a pretty good bad idea me and you,” these two have a tangible chemistry. Hovering in the background is her savior and genuine if unlikely friend, Joe (the esteemed Dakin Matthews) a curmudgeonly character with a surprising twist of kindness. But in the end as one more terrific song reveals, “Everything Changes” as Jenna meets her baby and discovers the life she’s dreamed of is finally right there in front of her.

WAITRESS is like a fresh baked pie without ice cream. Just so enjoyable you don’t need anything extra to make it the most delicious evening of entertainment.

The book for the Broadway show is by Jessie Nelson however it is based on the 2007 movie written and directed by (and co-starring) Adrienne Shelly. Diane Paulus directs. At the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St. 877-250-2929

Photos by Joan Marcus 2016