There is something so incredibly appealing about a perfectly crafted slice of pie.
For Jenna, it is her life’s work, a tradition borne of a mother stuck in an abusive relationship. While both Jenna and her mother have had their struggles in affairs of the heart, they were savants of the pie-est order when it came to how to mix ingredients in surreal combinations, creating pure perfection 400 degrees at a time.
The Sara Bareilles musical “Waitress,” with a strong book from Jessie Nelson, only has a few weeks left in their Broadway run that has lasted four-plus years, and is one of the most jovial productions in New York City. It certainly starts with the chipper young ladies who hand out flyers at the midtown Manhattan TKTS booth, complete with powder blue diner outfits and headbands with a huge, protruding pie tilted to the side. And then of course there’s the chance to buy some delicious pie in the lobby next to some darling merch.
The tour of the hit musical, based on the 2007 movie of the same name, is running at Broadway San Jose through Sunday, Dec. 22nd.
With all that sugar, butter and flour comes a production that functions as a love story, but not really and a baking story, but hardly. As Jenna’s moral clarity continues to hit some serious bumpy roads, her pies sail along smoothly, the sweet creations becoming elixirs to a diner full of lonely, damaged simple folk. Bad choices made by the denizens who enter Joe’s Pie Diner are as common as the ketchup bottles that adorn the tables.
For Jenna (a grand performance by Bailey McCall), the proceedings kick off with a pregnancy. And while getting ready for a little bundle of joy usually includes plenty of excitement, having a baby with the insufferable mooch Earl (Clayton Howe in a particularly tough role) is not the way Jenna is trying to kick off her new experience of domesticity. Everyone knows Earl is a good for nothing louse, including Jenna’s co-waitresses Becky (terrific Kennedy Salters) and Dawn (a broad comic performance from Gabriella Marzetta). Even short-order cook and gruff boss Cal (a delightful Jake Mills) knows that this guy who comes around to grab some dessert and Jenna’s tip money is up to a whole lot of no good.
What throws off everything mightily is Jenna’s very odd budding of something with her new gynecologist Dr. Pomatter (quirky and gentle David Socolar), a man who just replaced her previous doctor, now retired. It’s a vulnerable time for both Jenna and the Doctor. His constant bumbling in new surroundings and her desperation to flee and create an entirely new world far from the suffocating walls of this laconic little town combine for a whole different kind of dessert. And plenty of it.
Diane Paulus’ direction on a solid set design by Scott Pask whisks beautifully through space. Creation of the ambience in Joe’s Pie Diner is subtle and doesn’t pull focus, as customers sit and chat while action takes place throughout.
While Bareilles’ music throughout the show is charming, with the leitmotif of the essential ingredients a radiant, metaphoric touch, not every tune is particularly memorable. Her ability to write an anthem in her pop music does show itself here in a huge way with “She Used to Be Mine,” a song that rises up in the most critical of ways. It’s a beautiful belt from McCall, singing a song that reflects on a woman who gives every ounce of herself through her pies, but waits for the reciprocity that never seems to come.
Other moments throughout showcase a proper amount of hilarity and hubris. There is the character of Ogie, played with scintillating physicality from Brian Lundy, a man who is clearly in touch with his patriotic side. And the crass old man Joe, whose condescension is only matched by his warm heart and generosity, presents a meaningful consolation to Jenna after a big, devastating letdown.
The strength of the show is how it deals with damaged people. All of the employees we meet are dealing with their own devastation, knowing that nothing they do in life will ever be as perfect as the pie in their hands. This is why the conclusion rings true.
Jenna’s newly discovered bravery, just like her pie, is delicious.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Broadway San Jose presents “Waitress”
Book by Jessie Nelson
Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles
Directed by Diane Paulus
The Word: A touching, delightful production where a woman searches for the perfection in her life only found in her baking. Strong performances from a tight cast make this production terrific.
Stars: 4.5 out of 5
Running time: Two hours, 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
255 S. Almaden Blvd., San Jose, CA 95113
Through Dec. 22nd
Tickets range from $43 – $228
For tickets, (800) 982-2787 or visit https://broadwaysanjose.com/