The only thing half-baked about WAITRESS is that it was only in Jacksonville one night! Based on the movie written by Adrienne Shelly, the stage book was written by Jessie Nelson and features original music and lyrics by Grammy Award winner Sara Bareilles. The whole mixture is to a delicious treat.
The cast opens with, “What’s Inside,” a number to truly open a show. Everything — lead performers, strong ensemble, sets, choreography, and practical effects — was heartwarming and hilarious. The audience was applauding loudly after every song and laughing so loudly the cast had to pause numerous times. Thank goodness I was wearing a practical shirt, because I was laughing so hard, I needed it to wipe my tears!
WAITRESS is the story of Jenna (Jisel Soleil Ayon in her first touring production), a food server and expert pie baker who dreams of leaving her small town and verbally abusive husband. At the opening, Jenna finds out she is pregnant. A baking contest in a nearby county becomes the opportunity for Jenna to win enough money for a fresh start. Her best friends Becky (Dominique Kent) and Dawn (Gabriella Marzetta) are her support system.
This is a power-house trio leading the show. Ms. Ayon is in virtually every scene, magnetic onstage and carrying the vocals to a superb crescendo in, “She Used to be Mine.” Ms. Kent (also first national tour) and Ms. Marzetta get chances to shine as well, and shine they do. All three characters comprise a wonderful confection.
Earl, Jenna’s awful husband, is played commendably by Shawn W. Smith. The show alludes to Jenna having married a man like her father, although the character of Earl is never portrayed as physically abusive. He still genuinely came across as a low-life, completely the opposite to his having played Jesus in Godspell (although he did play Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar).
In a bit of a twist, Jenna’s gynecologist Dr. Pomatter (David Socolar) becomes Jenna’s love interest, leading to some interesting mixtures in the exam room… His chemistry on stage with Ms. Ayon is charming and hilarious. Mr. Socolar brings quite the comedic touch to the stage.
However, when it comes to comedy, Brian Lundy (Ogie) steals the scenes with his loveable nerdy, asthmatic, smitten poet who sweeps Dawn off her reluctant feet – so charming yet so… odd. “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” is comedic gold worthy of Dick Van Dyke. When he partners with also-nerdy Dawn, the audience goes wild.
This play is a more than a little sexy. Everyone is in their pursuit of happiness constantly and to many satisfying conclusions. It may make you feel very differently about a Pineapple Upside Down Pie or even Paul Revere and the recitation of the Declaration of Independence.
The pie shop staff is rounded out by Jenna’s boss Cal (Jake Mills), who has wonderful sass and chemistry with the “do not mess with me” Ms. Kent, with a sexy secret of their own, and cantankerous old customer Joe (Michael R. Douglass), who insists on tomatoes on the side.
The entire company made not only their respective characters, but the overall performance, seem natural and easy. The choreography was understated, but impeccably executed. The timing with the blocking, set pieces, and costume changes was so smooth as to leave no space between scenes. Even the orchestra became part of the coffee shop and other scenes, moving in and out on a platform. The coordination between everything and everyone was masterful. The standing ovation at the beginning of the curtain calls was well-deserved.
For those of you who want to know about potential topics that may be controversial, the show does include domestic violence and infidelity.
WAITRESS was part of the FSCJ Artist Series, although it was a one-night-only performance. If it comes back through, you won’t want to miss it. For tickets to upcoming shows, go to fscjartistseries.org or call (904) 632-5000.
By Cessy Newmon