REVIEW: Waitress - Original Broadway Cast

Recording CoverIf it weren't for a certain musical this season with the name of Hamilton, I'm pretty sure that Waitress, the delightful new musical with a moving and tuneful score by pop star Sara Bareilles, could very well have become the season's best musical. Despite not winning any Tony Awards, the show is continuing to perform well at the box office which speaks to its well-made book and score, all delivered by top-notch performers. The newly released cast album highlights all that's wonderful about this film-to-stage adaptation which focuses on Jenna, a small-town waitress with a talent for making delicious pies. As our heroine finds herself pregnant after a drunken night with her abusive husband, Earl, she falls into an affair with her gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter, and must figure out what she really wants in life.

While this is Bareilles's first score for stage (and hopefully not her last), she exhibits a true gift for theatrical writing without losing her own distinctive musical voice in the mix. From the peppy opening number "Opening Up" in which Jenna and her restaurant coworkers get ready for the day to the simple, but poignant repeated lyrics of "Sugar. Butter. Flour" that permeate the score, Bareilles writes music that is simultaneously catchy and heartbreaking. While the show does become a tad ballad-heavy in the second act, evoking more of Bareilles's mainstream pop sound, the songs aren't any less gorgeous, a standout being Jenna's 11 o'clock number "She Used to Be Mine," performed with an intensity of emotion by Tony Award-winner Jessie Mueller. Mueller sounds fantastic in all of her numbers and definitely is the anchor of this musical, but one of Waitress's key strengths as heard on the cast album is the diversity of rich performances given by the supporting cast. Indeed, every character gets at least one song that allows them to shine, resulting in a score that is gorgeous if a bit overlong (does crotchety diner patron, Joe, really need his own song "Take It From an Old Man" a la Guys and Dolls' "More I Cannot Wish You"?) Most delightful are Jenna's waitress sidekicks, Dawn (Kimiko Glenn) and Becky (Keala Settle), who each get their own star numbers and harmonize well with Meuller. Drew Gehling as Dr. Pomatter offers a humorous performance that is enhanced by his smooth tenor voice which he utilizes to great effect on "You Matter to Me." As Ogie, Dawn's wacky love interest, Christopher Fitzgerald makes it clear why he received a Tony nom in his big number "Never Ever Getting Rid of Me."

What also makes this album are the show's lively orchestrations, arranged by Bareilles herself and the onstage "Waitress Band." The simple six-person instrumentation of piano, keys, drums, cello, bass, and guitar are simple but effective and capture the musical's small-town country feel perfectly. Sound-wise, the entire cast album is expertly balanced between instruments and voices that makes for a rich listening experience.

While Hamilton received the majority of the year's attention, Waitress and its cast album are more than worthy additions to the past season. So heat up a piece of pie and settle in for a listen of Waitress; it's delectable.


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