REVIEW: WAITRESS at The Denver Center

by Noah Jordan

It’s a critical moment in the second act of WAITRESS. Jenna sits alone and broken. The money she’s been saving to escape from her miserable life is gone, and once again she lost all control of her life.

“It’s not simple to say…”

COUGH. COUGH. COUGH.

“But I still remember that girl…”

COUGH. COUGH. COUGH.

“She is gone, but she used to be mine!”

Did you catch that? Me either. WAITRESS made its debut in Denver on Tuesday night and despite a few somewhat distracting mic problems early on, and a crowd that during intermission desperately needed a massive supply of throat lozenges, was actually quite successful.

Having first seen the musical during its initial run in New York City, I left the theatre feeling happy. I wasn’t sure if I LOVED it, but I was certainly smiling. Time went on and as I listened to the songs here and there, it started to grow on me like a “precious little parasite” and suddenly I found myself really enjoying it. So…I saw it again with Sara Bareilles, and again with Betsy Wolfe, and again in Minneapolis on tour with understudy Emily Koch stepping in for the role of Jenna. So needless to say when it made its stop here in Denver at the Buell Theatre, I was pretty excited to see it AGAIN, this time with Desi Oakley back in the saddle.

The musical is based on Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion, it’s a pretty simple story that goes like this: An unhappy woman in a small Southern town has one thing in her life that she still loves — creating magnificent pies — but she’s enlivened by an affair with her gynecologist despite being pregnant from her jerk of a husband.

Oakley delivers a fantastic portrayal of Jenna, the loving and talented pie maker who finds herself trapped and pregnant in an unhappy marriage. She finds a way to bring fresh vibes to many of the signature songs, and makes strong choices that are unlike her Jenna counterparts. On this tour she’s managed to create a new Jenna, one that not only works for her but one that we want to root for all the way to the end. Oakley’s talents are showcased even more during her second act ballad, She Used to Be Mine, which she sings and acts beautifully.

Oakley is matched wonderfully with both her male counterparts. Nick Bailey serves douchebag realness in his version of Earl, Jenna’s not so great and highly arrogant husband. And Bryan Fenkart plays the awkward and charming Dr. Pomatter with style. He’s so awkward, but somehow it makes total sense why you might make a few more trips to doctor if he were around.

Both Charity Angel Dawson and Lenne Klingaman give noteworthy performances as the best friends of our leading lady. Dawson plays Becky, a sassy and sharp witted fellow waitress at the dinner with a few secrets of her own. And Klingaman plays Dawn, a sweet girl full of quirks and insecurities who finds herself in an unexpected romance of her own. Jeremy Morse, who plays Ogie, the dorky boyfriend of Dawn, does a spectacular job, with each scene, song, and dance routine being funnier than the last and easily making him a crowd favorite.

Overall, the show is quite enjoyable, full of laughs, and has just enough heart to give you feels without taking you to booger cry city. The leading actress was is great, the supporting cast gets two thumbs up; the small ensemble cast are energetic and add just enough without being too distracting. And the songs flow seamlessly from start to finish.

It’s no secret that WAITRESS may not be the “most important” musical of our generation, and years from now people won’t look back and tell the world how WAITRESS changed their lives, but even still…the musical provides an escape even if it’s just a few hours, and for me that’s what exactly what theatre is supposed to do.

WAITRESS is serenading audiences now through December 31st at the Buell Theatre in the Denver Center Complex. For tickets or more information, contact the Denver Center Box Office by calling 303-893-4100 or online at www.denvercenter.org.

PHOTO CREDIT:  Joan Marcus

 

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