By Jordan Nash-Boulden
The first national tour of Waitress rolled into Tempe, Arizona this past week, October 2nd through 7th, and audiences were treated to some truly sweet performances by an incredibly talented cast.
The plot of Waitress centers on small-town diner waitress and expert pie-baker Jenna—portrayed brilliantly on the stage by Christine Dwyer, who, on opening night, was still in the midst of her first full week in the role. So far, she has certainly taken the spotlight in stride and made it her own: Jenna’s character was expressive, relatable, and grounded in her humanity in a way that allowed the audience to revel in her successes and feel her missteps as she did. As she tries to make ends meet, Jenna unexpectedly learns that she is pregnant—a development that threatens the unsteady balance of life as she knows it and forces her to re-evaluate who (and what) truly matters to her. Along this difficult road, she must also contend with a home that has been made unhappy by her hot-tempered, arrogant, and often unkind husband Earl (Nick Bailey). Bailey brought depth and emotion to the otherwise fairly one-dimensional character, in fact, his performance was so believable that scattered boos rang out among the applause from the audience at curtain call—as he finally broke character to meet them with an accepting smile and apologetic wave from the stage.
Luckily, Jenna doesn’t have to navigate life’s twists and turns alone; she is supported by her fellow waitresses Becky (brought to life by Tatiana Lofton) and Dawn (played exceptionally on October 2nd by Lenne Klingaman and in the back half of the week by Jessie Shelton)—both of whom face their own challenges throughout the course of the show, but never fail to be there for Jenna and each other. Lofton’s performance as Becky is vibrant and her rendition of “I Didn’t Plan It” shows off an impressive ability to play off of her fellow cast members while simultaneously bringing powerful vocals to the table. Meanwhile, Klingaman was brilliant as the socially-scatterbrained Dawn: the opening night in Tempe marked her final show as part of the touring company before joining the cast at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway. She held nothing back—funny, charming, and perfectly connected to the introvert in all of us, Klingaman stole the show during an otherwise relatively slow-developing first act. Shelton’s rendition of the character was no less impressive and added even more talent to a cast already overflowing with it.
Although the spotlight shines brightest on the female leads in Waitress, the men of the company are out to steal the audience’s hearts as well—Bryan Fenkart donned the white jacket as the pleasantly goofy Dr. Jim Pomatter, and on stage, his chemistry with Dwyer was undeniable. The good doctor and Jenna, both unhappy in their marriages, find temporary solace in one another at the end of act one, culminated by the upbeat “Bad Idea” before the curtain drops. Meanwhile, Dawn learns to navigate the tumultuous dating world where she meets her equally wacky counterpart Ogie (Jeremy Morse) who truly steals the spotlight—and ultimately her heart—with the crowd-pleasing number “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me.” Morse played the part to perfection, pairing physical comedy with spot-on timing and impressive vocals to boot, earning him more than one period of extended applause from the audience and well-deserved cheers at the end of the night. Ryan Dunkin and Larry Marshall capped the leading company in the roles of “happy enough” cook Cal and obstinate diner owner Old Joe, respectively—while two young local girls were featured as well, as they alternated throughout the week to play Lulu, Jenna’s daughter.
A fantastic ensemble (with special nods to Alex Tripp, Mark Christine, Gerianne Perez, and Grace Stockdale) accompanied the show, as did members of the Waitress band, who, unlike most musicals in recent memory, are featured on stage for a majority of the show’s 2 hour and 30 minute run-time. However, their presence, and the original music written by Grammy winner Sara Bareilles, only served to accentuate a tremendous performance by all involved. Exceptional stage lighting and direction draws the audience’s attention to the main action taking place, often bathing background action in cool tones that soften the field of view to what matters most. Those fortunate enough to experience this show more than once will likely notice different subtleties and nuances with every performance, making for a fresh-baked delight every time.
In short, a stop at this diner should not be missed—a wonderfully talented cast brings to life this story that is deeply moving, delightfully charming, and refreshingly human.
Check out https://waitressthemusical.com/tour for the full cast and to find out when the Waitress tour will be bringing pies on the road to a city near you!