Review: Waitress at the Wales Millennium Centre

The smash-hit musical Waitress, complete with an impeccable score by Grammy Award winning folk-pop singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles is currently showing at Wales Millennium Centre. I went in blind, not really knowing what to expect from the storyline and never having listened to the soundtrack, and have to say I came out feeling very uplifted and charmed by this show. I've got nothing but positive things to say about it - the story didn't drag for a second, the characterisation was excellent and I absolutely loved that though there was romance, there was an even stronger focus on female friendship (not too surprising given the production comes from a female-led creative team!).

Based on the 2007 indie film written by and co-starring the late Adrienne Shelly, Waitress tells a simple, intimate story of Jenna, a small-town waitress trapped in a loveless and abusive marriage with her husband Earl. Her passion in life is baking and her job waiting tables in Joe's Pie Diner is a real form of escapism for her. Throughout the show, Jenna gets creative and bakes a number of delicious pies with names that tend to be influenced by her feelings and what she's going through at the time (the way this is intertwined with the narrative and portrayed on stage is very clever!). 

Finding herself pregnant with Earl's baby after a few too many drinks one night, Jenna becomes desperate to leave the relationship once and for all, aiming to raise the funds she needs by entering a baking contest offering a generous cash prize to the lucky winner. 

Jessie Nelson's book is outstanding, equally emotive, bittersweet and funny, with some scenes around Jenna's relationship that are a little more gritty and hard to watch. It's a testiment to Chelsea Halfpenny how much you care about Jenna, as she played her absolutely brilliantly. Even at times when you know Jenna's making a few pretty bad decisions, you're always on her side and can empathise with her. 

It was a beautiful performance all round, Halfpenny came across really natural and effortless in bringing across the warmth and hopefuless of the character, with a singing voice that blew the audience away, especially during her rendition of "She Used To Be Mine". She can both belt out a song and sing the more understated numbers more softly with a lot of heart....her voice just has a really lovely tone to it I thought!

Evelyn Hoskins as the naive, quirky and loveable Dawn was another highlight for me and I loved that she got a chance to shine with her solo performance of "When He Sees Me"Wendy Mae Brown as the vivacious Becky completed the trio and the special bond between the three waitresses was really believeable, with each of them conveying a very multi-layered character impressively right from the start. Brown has an incredibly powerful voice too ("I Didn't Plan It" was a favourite song of mine and has been on repeat sing the show!) and brought a lot of heart to the role. 

George Crawford as Ogie was hilarious! "Never Ever Getting Rid Of Me" is super catchy and another of my favourite songs in the show, even though some of the lines are a bit on the dodgy side (in terms of sounding a little predatory towards Dawn, but I suppose you have to take it with a pinch of salt - or sugar in this case!). In fact, Waitress really is a genuinely funny musical on the whole, which I had no idea it was going to be, so that was a pleasant surprise. If you like your rom-coms and your chick flicks, especially those which do cover more serious subject matters as well, this show will be right up your street.

David Hunter as gynecologist Dr Pomatter delivers a scene-stealing performance that brings the most laughs, he was fantastic at playing someone so awkward yet charming and again, the energy and chemistry between him and Halfpenny as Jenna was spot on; they sounded great together in "Bad Idea".

Special mention to Michael Starke as Old Joe who had us emotional at some points in the second act. His relationship with Jenna was truly lovely, especially during his sweet, fatherly performance of "Take It From An Old Man" which brought a tear to my eye!

Waitress is sugary but with more than enough spice, a large sprinkling of witty one liners and some darker aspects to the storyline that help to balance things and keep it from being too sweet. A wonderful recipe for a musical if you ask me! I keep thinking about how I'd love to see this show again which isn't something I tend to think after a musical, even if I loved it, but I think I could appreciate it even more a second time round now I've become obsessed with the soundtrack!

Waitress is showing at the Wales Millennium Centre until 4th June 2022. Click here to book your tickets.


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