Gaylife Magazine | Manchester

Review: Waitress, Opera House

We have all heard the soundtracks to shows before seeing them live and have probably then put together our own story of what the songs we like the most mean in the show and where they fit in. That, whilst remaining open-minded, can be a help and a hindrance. Knowing very little about this show apart from hearing a few songs and seeing a few photos, I attended with said open mind but also excited anticipation about what the show may hold and wow was I impressed?

The music, the scenery, the make-up (and costumes), the props… the comedy, the writing, the transitions and relatability of this show are pure magic. It is perhaps one of the best shows I have seen (and I have seen a lot of shows). With the lifestyle of customer-facing work, relationship struggles and affairs, pregnancy and dilemma, control and domestic violence references; balanced with empowerment, temptation and romance, inspiration and strength from family, girl power/sisterhood and ultimately (eventually) happiness, there is no point where we are left ‘bored’ or not engrossed.

The huge backdrop of a perspective road, somewhere in small-town Indiana, leading to a small cafe off-Highway 27, provides scale in this show, beautifully matched with the electronic rolling shutters used to scale scenes down for (occasionally literal) intimacy.

The show follows Jenna Hunterson (played perfectly by XFactor and Eurovision star, Lucie Jones), an employee and pie maker at Joe’s Pie Diner. Her passion for pies is evident from the start and throughout, passed on from her mother who shared the same struggle of marriage to a controlling narcissist. We discover ‘What baking Can Do’ and how naming pies and using different ingredients can help you to escape the real world and help you to help others. As Jenna’s colleagues, fellow waitresses Becky and Dawn (played by Sandra Martin and Evelyn Hoskins, who both provide great comedy), and her boss Cal (Christopher D. Hunt) are ‘Opening Up’ we get the first feel of the amazing poppy soundtrack, which also takes influences from jazz, folk, rock and, unsurprisingly, country The music, performed by an on-stage band of Denise Crowley (Keyboard), Oliver Copeland (Bass), Ollie Boorman (Drums) and Alex Crawford (Cello/Guitar), led by Ellen Campbell (MD and Piano), it’s no surprise that the show ends nightly with a standing ovation. Although this is also down to the writing and execution of emotive and comedic scenes.

‘The girls’ – Becky and Dawn – also have relationship struggles. Well, Dawn doesn’t even have one until she posts her dating profile ‘NewDawnRising’ which attracts the highly entertaining and talented mutual reenactment enthusiast Ogie ‘OKCWithABullet’ (played brilliantly by George Crawford). Highly persistent, after their “five minute date” which is preceded by ‘When He Sees Me’, we hear ‘You’re Never Getting Rid Of Me’ and ‘I Love You Like A Table’ which contribute to the character/actor getting three well-deserved rounds of applause within seconds (well done George. Or should I say “Ogie-Ogie-Ogie!”?). Jenna’s dilemmas however are far more wide-reaching as she dreams of escaping her relationship with controlling, sleazy Earl (Nathanael Landskroner on this performance but usually played by Tamlyn Henderson) who takes her tips off her. Jenna confides in her colleagues about feeling ill and we later discover she is pregnant, despite the girls hoping for ‘The Negative’. At a check-up, she is met by Dr Pomatter (Busted’s Matt Jay-Willis) after the doctor who delivered her has retired. Patient and medical professional boundaries are well and truly crossed and, though not initially, they embark on the mutually-confessed ‘Bad Idea’. Reinforced as they reunite at the bus stop with ‘It Only Takes A Taste’, referring to the gifted pie flavours and their attraction. ‘You Will Still Be Mine’, ‘You Matter To Me’ and the visual scenes of passion also show the intensity of their connection.

Scarlet Gabriel’s Nurse Norma deserved mention for her comedy character too and the in-sync ‘robot’ choreography of the ensemble (under Dance Captain Charlie Martin) should not go unnoticed either.

One of my favourite characters and songs is that of pie shop owner Joe (played superbly and impressively by Brookside/The Royal and Holy City star Michael Starke whose advice and wisdom is invaluable in ‘Take It From An Old Man’. Although considered a cameo, his character sees what’s going on and his genuine likeability makes us sad when he departs.His believe in Jenna’s talent gives her the confidence to escape her relationship but sadly it’s too late to fulfil the dream they agreed but a heartwarming twist makes for a lump-in-your-throat ending.

With nods to representation and powerful issues, this show is definitely one to go and see, at least once. You will be laughing and on the edge of your seat throughout, but feel relaxed, fulfilled and entertained as you’re done. And who of us doesn’t want or deserve that right now?

Running until 20th November, with £13 tickets available ~

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