Wednesday, 16 February 2022

REVIEW: Waitress at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Having seen ‘Waitress’ five times (with four different Jennas) during its time at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End, to say I had high expectations for this tour is an understatement. 

Based on Adrienne Shelley’s film of the same name, Waitress follows Jenna Hunterson, a hugely talented pie baker who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant by her abusive husband. Jenna dreams of escaping her marriage and starting a new life. With the help of her best friends and an exceptionally charming gynaecologist, she is able to dream again and create bakes like never before and learn all about love in its different forms along the way. The show embodies romance, comedy, tragedy and whips it all together in one big beautiful pie to offer a night a the theatre you will never forget.

With a score crafted to perfection by chart-topper Sara Bareilles, the music is the beating heart of this stunning story and mixed with the book by Jessie Nelson, this really is a special show. There’s hardly an ear out there who hasn’t already heard “She Used To Be Mine”; Jenna’s sensational ballad from the climax of the show, but Waitress has so many more gems throughout. Jenna’s best friends Becky and Dawn (played by Sandra Marvin and Evelyn Hoskins respectively) who work with her at the diner each have brilliant numbers encapsulating their characters with “I Didn’t Plan It” and “When He Sees Me” in turn. 

From Broadway to the West End to Woking’s New Victoria Theatre, the set has been adapted to fit the smaller space seamlessly, and with emotive choreography used throughout, the stage is used to its full potential. The orchestra, as in the West End, are featured on stage throughout most of the show which makes a refreshing change. 

A show is nothing without its cast and this line-up is a delicious treat. Chelsea Halfpenny of Emmerdale and Casualty fame has filled the mammoth shoes of Jenna. Previously played by Katharine McPhee, Lucie Jones and of course Sara Bareilles herself, Halfpenny has a huge weight on her shoulders. Her voice is the sweetest syrup. She is sensational. Her Jenna follows Bareilles’s written music to the note and resists the urge to ad-lib or riff to excess as is so often done now in the industry. She brought carefully nuanced comedy to the role and showed a much lighter side to Jenna than I’d seen before. Similarly, Hoskins’s Dawn was somehow even brighter and more bubbly than previous interpretations while Marvin delivers a Becky more assertive and somehow even more outrageous than her predecessors. 

I must commend Nathanael Landskroner for his endearing portrayal of Dr Pomatter, the role usually played by Matt Jay-Willis. He was suitably giddy yet grounded and sang the most stunning rendition of You Matter To Me with Halfpenny that I’ve heard. George Crawford as Ogie was equally marvellous in his own way with exceptional physical comedy and solid vocals; an aspect of Ogie’s casting which has been overlooked previously on more than one occasion. 

There were a few opening night sound glitches with mic feedback and balancing issues, but hopefully, as the run settles in, these will be forgotten. Was the evening total perfect? No. But that’s not what Waitress is about. Waitress is an epic poem; an ode to day-dreamers everywhere. It is courageous, emotive and beautiful in every way.  

Review by Harriet Langdown 

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: H7, Stalls  | Price of Ticket: £55 (Prices ranging from £13 - £65 plus booking fee via ATG)

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