Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 19, 2019

REVIEW: The Bushnell, Waitress

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through June 23, 2019
by R.E. Smith

It would be easy to lump Waitress in with the plethora of current musicals whose origins are in the movies, but like the titular character herself, this show defies expectations and delights in its differences.

Photo by Daniel Lippitt
To start, the original film was not a blockbuster, but rather a small independent production, written and directed by the late actress Adrienne Shelly. With a predominantly female production team, the message of sisterhood and empowerment is, yes, baked into the show. Waitress is really a small character study that nonetheless fills the stage beautifully. The story centers on imaginative Jenna, a talented pie-making waitress with a loveless marriage, unexpected pregnancy, and the surprising attention of a handsome doctor.

The charming Christine Dwyer, as Jenna, is on stage for almost the entire show and the audience is on her side throughout every endearing, sometimes “messy” moment. Her marvelously expressive voice and impressive range serve every song well and her generous performance finally gets a solo spotlight with “She Used To Be Mine.” Without ever breaking the fourth wall, she is able to connect with the audience through Jenna’s very relatable attempts to make sense of her often awkward life. Her cohorts are the quirky but caring Dawn, played by Ephie Aardema, and sassy, no-nonsense Becky, played by Melody A Betts, who each delight the audience with vastly different, but equally supporting personalities.

The music is by Grammy winner Sara Bareilles, a popular singer and songwriter, who has crafted some charming, homey, and diverse pieces, often relying solely on the blended voices of the 3 lead characters. The four-piece band is on stage much of the time, hiding amongst the other diner patrons. Befitting the Southern setting, it features cello and upright bass, giving the scores a unique sound for a Broadway show. While there are no big production numbers with dozens of dancers, there are definitely songs with huge emotional heart. There are brisk toe-tapping numbers like “Opening Up”, the oddly wishing for “The Negative” and the driving “Bad Idea”, contrasting with the intimate “A Soft Place to Land” and “You Matter to Me”.

Waitress is a delightful, funny, cozy, affirming, and endearing evening of musical theater, populated with playful and poignant songs and characters that quickly become like old friends, flaws and all.

P.S. Breathe deeply when you enter the lobby. . .you’ll be in for a scene-setting surprise!