Imagine if the most chaotic moment of your life was captured in a musical. “Waitress,” which premiered at the Fox Theater on Feb. 5, accomplishes just that as actors expertly portray nonsensical events in the lives of a wide cast of characters, from diner managers to a new-in-town gynecologist. Shifting between moments of intense love and dramatic traumas, “Waitress” does an incredible job at making even the most mundane day in a diner worthy of song, dance and celebration. The musical holds the audience’s attention consistently through each scene, effectively transitioning without losing the audience for even a moment.
The fast-paced musical follows Jenna Hawthorne (Christine Dwyer), a soon-to-be mother facing the world with nothing but her stellar pie-making ability and hope for a better life. In working-class rural Illinois, Jenna works at Joe’s Diner, where she bakes pies alongside her coworkers, the quirky Dawn (Jessie Shelton) and fiercely independent Becky (Maiesha McQueen).
As Dawn and Becky guide Jenna through a pregnancy test in the song “The Negative,” it becomes immediately evident that these three women support each other unconditionally. Their love and support is the musical’s backbone and makes the show more relatable; as the audience goes about their lives, this show reminds us that we are motivated by those we love. Watching these waitresses bond is a wonderful reminder of the importance of caring for others. The musical demonstrates this message effectively and enjoyably through the precise use of choreography, set design and vocals throughout the show.
In addition to the simplistic ballet-styled choreography, the set design transforms the stage into the rural Midwest. Joe’s Diner, the play’s primary location, seems simple but is easily the show’s most complex set. The set is built so the audience can peer into the diner window and through the other side to the Illinois countryside. Instead of occupying the pit underneath the stage, the small folk band takes up shop in a few booths in a corner of the diner. This was a pleasant surprise as it was an interesting take on a industry staple. A window into the fully furnished kitchen frequently shows the store manager Cal (Ryan Dunkin) berating the waitresses to ”Get back to work!” This window sits adjacent to a bar that frequently acts as a stage of its own, with actors clamoring up the barstools to make sudden exclamations.
Much of the magic in “Waitress” is created by the transitions of scenes and props on and off the stage. The props frequently appeared to be moving on their own accord. Case in point: Dr. Pomatter’s (Steven Good) examination table as it enters the stage during the song ”Pomatter Pie.” Each prop glides smoothly and efficiently into place, which allows the actors to do their work unhindered.
One of the most stand-out aspects of the musical occurs each time Jenna’s inner thoughts are directly conveyed to the audience. At key moments, the scene freezes as the lights shift from the fluorescent diner lighting to a dark mix of purples and blues. Jenna steps out of the scene and describes the recipe for a pie that perfectly fits the situation and how she feels in that moment, such as a “A Little Wild, Wild Berry Pie” when her emotions are in disarray. As the audience learns the important role baking plays in Jenna’s life as a coping mechanism, an increasingly intimate relationship is forged between Jenna and her audience.
The show also excels in the cast’s, especially the waitresses’, harmonious precision. Accompanied by a strong ensemble of background singers, Jenna, Becky and Dawn join together in songs such as ”A Soft Place to Land,” which not only caused tears to spring into my eyes, but also joined the long list of goosebump-raising moments. During the musical’s Atlanta premiere, however, these harmonies were discordant due to unbalanced microphones during duets. In the songs featuring Pomatter and Jenna, such as “It Only Takes a Taste” and “Bad Idea,” Jenna’s voice overpowered Pomatter’s. Complementing the vocals, the choreography — based largely around ballet and complex synchronization between the wildly talented main characters and chorus — was visually stimulating.
With jaw-dropping vocals and an unforgettable story, “Waitress” brings love and passion to Atlanta in a show that will have the audience itching to see it again and again, despite it only running until Feb. 11. The performance overall clearly comes straight from Broadway, demonstrated largely through the quality of the production as a whole. “Waitress” stunned audiences continuously because of the simplistic costume design in contrast with the complex choreography.