The story of a server and pie-maker at a roadside diner who gets pregnant and has an affair with her gynecologist, Waitress began life as a charming, deceptively simple movie starring Keri Russell, in 2007. Portraying the darker side of small-town America in film is not new, but writer and director Adrienne Shelly brought a refreshing female perspective to that Hitchcockian trope—and added plenty of sugar, butter and flour. It remains one of my favorite films.
Enter Waitress the musical, which opened this week at the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco. Loyal to Shelly's film (down to some exact dialogue), plus 17 fine but mostly forgettable songs by adult-contemporary radio hitmaker Sara Bareilles, the show peddles in both the cute and the complicated. Unlike the movie, which blended those two elements in a natural, realistic way, the musical version maximizes both and sends them in different directions. There is exaggerated, slapstick physical comedy for guaranteed laughs, and there is the belted, introspective who-am-I number in the second act that moves the crowd to sustained applause. Such is the way of Broadway.
Still, along with its eye-popping set and affable cast, the strength of Shelly's intricate story carries this production. One has to wonder what Shelly, who was tragically murdered in her home by a stranger just months before Waitress opened in movie theaters, would make of this musical. With the lead character Jenna played to perfection by Christine Dwyer, and with Jenna's agency intact at story's end, and with an all-female creative team—including director Diane Paulus—I'd like to think she'd hail this Waitress for the confection it is: sweet, satisfying, and comfortable.