Theatre Review: WAITRESS – Opera House, Manchester

With its sweet staging, stunning musical numbers, and sparkling wit, WAITRESS proves itself to be the perfect recipe.

4 out of 5 stars

After being rescheduled from winter 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first UK tour of WAITRESS finally heads to the Opera House this week, giving Manchester’s theatre lovers the sweet treat they have been craving.

Based on the 2007 indie film of the same name, WAITRESS follows Jenna, an expert pie-maker and waitress at a local diner who dreams of some happiness in her life.

Trapped in an abusive marriage, Jenna’s life becomes more complicated when she unexpectedly becomes pregnant and begins an affair with her new doctor.

With the support of her workmates Becky and Dawn, Jenna overcomes the challenges she faces and finds that laughter, love, and friendship can provide the perfect recipe for happiness.

Conceptualised by an all-female creative team, WAITRESS is the quintessential tale of a small-town girl with big dreams. This multi-layered show wins you over with its sweet staging, stunning musical numbers, and sparkling wit.

Director Diane Paulus makes the most of Jessie Nelson’s predictable yet grounded plot, allowing the ensemble to have their own little character moments within this unashamedly sweet and sugary tale.

Scott Pask’s cleverly executed set design is used to its full potential, allowing the action to flow easily between the diner, Dr Pomatter’s surgery and Jenna’s home, and the attention to detail is exquisite.

The narrative is also pushed along nicely by Sara Bareilles’ catchy pop score, which is played with gusto by the on-stage band of musicians.

All the musical numbers are pleasant on the ear with some lovely harmonies to enjoy, but except for SHE USED TO BE MINE and YOU MATTER TO ME, there aren’t as many ‘humming-it-on-your-way-home’ tunes as anticipated.

The performances are very much part of the show’s appeal, and Lucie Jones steals the show as the conflicted, kind, and relatable Jenna.

Jones plays the title character with vulnerability, poise, and believability. Her tear-jerking rendition of SHE USED TO BE MINE is beautifully delivered, standing out as a highlight of the show.

The supporting cast is equally strong, with Sandra Marvin and Evelyn Hoskins standing out for their performances as Jenna’s fellow waitresses Becky and Dawn.

With their assured turns, the pair provides some great comic moments, helping counterbalance some of the darker plot points.

Hoskins’ performance is further complemented by George Crawford as Ogie, and it is a delight to watch their relationship unfold throughout the show.

Elsewhere, Nathaneal Landskroner succeeds in being thoroughly unlikeable as Jenna’s abusive husband, Earl.

Matt Jay-Willis is also strong as the charming, although professionally questionable, Dr Pomatter. His comic timing is spot on, and much of the humour is greatly enhanced by the often-unexpected presence of Scarlet Gabriel as Nurse Norma.

Of course, those familiar with the film will know that WAITRESS is a piece that delves into some serious issues, including unwanted pregnancy, domestic abuse and adultery. Not all of these are dealt with head-on, and many of the darker plot points are brushed over with just a sprinkling of humour and a few tears.

That said, WAITRESS is a story about dreaming up a new and better life and just like many of the dishes Jenna serves up, it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt – or should we say sugar?

If you’re looking for a few hours of theatrical escapism, then WAITRESS is the perfect recipe.

WAITRESS runs at the Opera House, Manchester, until 20 November 2021