Review: Waitress (Mirvish)

Photo of Ephie Aardema, Christine Dwyer and Melody A Betts by Daniel LippittMirvish brings the hit Broadway musical with songs by Sara Bareilles to Toronto

The North-American tour of Waitress is currently making a stop in Toronto at the Ed Mirvish Theatre. The hit Broadway musical with book by Jessie Nelson and songs by American singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles is based on the 2007 film starring Keri Russell and centres on the story of a small-town diner waitress and skilled baker named Jenna (Christine Dwyer) who aspires to enter a pie-making competition to win the prize money she needs to escape her unhappy life.

Waitress is essentially a paint-by-numbers (or should I say bake-by-recipe card?) romantic comedy: take a heroine trapped in an unhappy relationship with an abusive jerk, add a dash of chance to leave said unhappy relationship, mix in a handsome new man in town, and sprinkle liberally with sassy banter with the girlfriends. Put it in the oven and bake for two-and-a-half hours: you know what happens, there are no surprises here. 

Christine Dwyer delivers a strong performance in the lead role of Jenna. She sings beautifully and her voice has great dynamic range so she’s able to add beautiful texture during the soft moments when Jenna is full of self doubt but also has a strong, powerful belt for the bigger emotional moments. Acting-wise Dwyer aptly carries her character through the emotional arc from being riddled with insecurity and doubt to finally realizing her self-worth. We really root for her Jenna.

The main attraction for Waitress is Bareilles’ songs; for someone’s freshman attempt at writing for musical theatre I think she does admirably. Her folksy pop-rock style pairs well with the characters and the setting of the story. Her introspective character songs are her strength: Jenna’s 11th-hour solo number She Used to Be Mine is so beautifully heart-rending. But I didn’t find Bareilles’ group numbers or songs that drive plot forward quite as strong. 

Which leads me to my main sticking point with Waitress: I think this pie might have a little too much added sugar and cream. Moments that in a movie would consist of a short, pithy bit of dialogue and a couple shots of characters looking meaningfully at each other are instead drawn out into entire songs here. 

There are a handful of songs that I think they could easily cut for time and it would also lead to a sharper focus and tighter pace for the show. Not helping matters is the somewhat muddled audio mix on opening night that sometimes rendered lyrics a bit difficult to discern. 

Admittedly, part of my reaction is likely due to my ambivalence toward the romantic comedy format. I do love them sometimes but I don’t necessarily have the patience for dwelling in the moments of a stock rom-com plot so the show felt overly long and I found I kept wishing they’d pick up the pace. 

In the end, Waitress kind of left me feeling like I just ate the whole pie when I really just wanted a single slice; too much of something I may have enjoyed more in moderation. But, if you’re the kind of person who loves rom-coms, you’ll likely enjoy this sweet treat more than I did. In which case, go ahead and treat yourself: eat the whole damn pie.

Details:

  • Waitress is playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria Street) through August 18, 2019
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., Open captioned performance Sunday, July 21 at 2:00 p.m.
  • Tickets $59.00 to $189.00
  • Tickets are available by phone at 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333, in-person at the Ed Mirvish Theatre box office or online at Mirvish.com

Photo of Ephie Aardema, Christine Dwyer and Melody A Betts by Daniel Lippitt

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