Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Broadway: “Waitress,” With Songs by Sarah Bareilles, Pushes Tony Award Season into Final Week


Sunday night: “Waitress,” based on Adrienne Shelley’s hit movie starring Keri Russell, opened on Broadway. Sara Bareilles wrote the songs. Jessie Mueller, from Carole King’s “Beautiful,” and Nick Cordero, from “Bullets Over Broadway,” star along with Keala Settle, Christopher Fitzgerald, along with Dakin Matthews, Kimiki Glen and Drew Gehling. Diane Paulus, of “Pippin” and “Finding Neverland,” directed.

In the audience last night: Larry David (a welcome surprise), Tony Danza, and Gloria and Emilion Estefan, among others. Tyson Foods catered the dinner at the Bryant Park Grill, including many mouth-watering pies to go along with the musical’s theme.

Mueller, always a knockout, plays Jenna, the diner waitress who obsessively bakes complicated pies, is an abusive marriage, and has an affair with her OB-GYN. Most of the songs are about pies. and baking them as a metaphor. Mueller and Glen seem to be singing a la Dolly Parton, very nasal and country. Sometimes I found that annoying.

Christopher Fitzgerald, who’s like a secret weapon in every show he does, will get a Tony nomination for a minor character role that brings life and light to the whole first act. They should expand his role, frankly.

Much of the book was a mystery to me. Some scenes have no ending or pay off. Some of the material repurposed from the movie doesn’t work on stage. There’s talk through the two plus hours of a baking contest Jenna wants to be in, but they never have it.

There will be marketing that this a musical about women’s empowerment, I guess. But many of the characters (Jenna’s no good husband, the doctor’s black Mammy-type nurse) are ridiculous stock characters who undermine the main story. Still, Bareilles has her fans, so does Mueller, and the fake smell of pies baking that’s piped into the theater at the end of Act 1 will make you yearn for what the show itself is lacking.

There are three more openings this week before Tony eligibility closes. The big question mark is “Shuffle Along,” which is set for Thursday if it actually happens. (I’ve heard rumors, but the show must open one way or another.) Also coming: “Tuck Everlasting” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”

It wasn’t a great season, and “Hamilton” loomed like a cloud over everything musical. Casts were large, which was good, and means a lot of competition in various Tony categories.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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