Recipe for Success?

by Jillian Carter

Going into the musical Waitress at the Lied Center for Performing Arts last night, I didn’t know what to expect, but that’s how I like it. Unless most of the civilized world, I haven’t seen the movie Waitress, and I purposefully avoided reading any stories or reviews about the movie or musical. I just knew it was on Broadway, so that’s a pretty high review on its own. Plus, I enjoy the music of Sara Bareilles that I hear on the radio, so I was expecting some strong songwriting and lyrics.

Even with so few expectations, I was surprised. Waitress is not a typical Broadway show. You know how you always leave a musical with a particular song stuck in your head? That doesn’t happen here. There aren’t any really catchy tunes that stay with you on the ride home, and there isn’t a character or plotline that you can’t stop thinking about. The woman seated next to me exclaimed “Cute!” or “Aw!” about every two minutes, and that about sums it up. As the main character, Jenna, sings about herself, the show is “messy but kind.” It’s a nice escape from the real world for a while, but that escape ends as soon as the lights come back up.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad production. It’s just that the talent and production values outshine the show itself.

The entire cast is darn near impeccable, led by Kelly Krauter as Jenna, a piemaker trapped in a small town diner and an abusive marriage. The other two waitresses at the diner, Kennedy Salters and Gabriella Marzetta (Becky and Dawn, respectively) are delightfully quirky, though they have to embody characters that are never fully developed into three-dimensional people. Jake Miller, as Cal the line cook, is an incredible comedic actor, both verbally and nonverbally, while Brian Lundy (Ogie) is a consummate performer, leading the most entertaining number, “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me,” while channeling some hilarious Peewee Herman vibes. Jenna’s love interest, Dr. Pomatter, is played by David Socolar in a manner that recalls the cadence of Rob Lowe mixed with the gangly charm of Patrick Dempsey in the 80s. Let’s not forget Michael R. Douglass as Joe, the curmudgeon with a heart of gold and a checkered sexual past, who has the most endearing number of the show, “Take It From an Old Man.”

The set and lighting were fantastic, good enough to rival most productions I’ve seen, with the exception of some slight hiccups in spotlight operation. The transitions are done with the kind of smooth choreography that leaves the audience amazed at being transported to another place. There are times when the audience’s focus is so intent on the action that it is almost a surprise to realize the setting has completely changed. That kind of sleight of hand is always a crowd pleaser.

Most of all, what I’m taking away from this performance, and why I can recommend it, even though I don’t love the show, is the strong ensemble participation. At any given moment, there are about a dozen details that make the show better, from ensemble members spitting out their coffee to the cook twirling around in the kitchen. It is a constantly entertaining, delicately balanced ballet, with more moving pieces than I would want to take on as a director.

One of the most important things I learned as a theatre student under the masterful Judy Hart, is that audiences love to see actors actually doing something onstage. It has proven true time and again, and that is what makes Waitress a hit, in my opinion. They were all always doing something, and everyone loved it.

If you go: Waitress remains at the Lied Center for Performing Arts (12th and R Streets in Lincoln) through March 8. Shows on Saturday, March 7, are at 2:00pm and 7:30pm. There is a 1:30pm matinee and a 7:00pm evening performance on Sunday, March 8. Tickets are available online and at the Lied Center box office.

Jillian Carter is a local playwright, actress, and director. She is the managing editor of Appearing Locally; training consultant for the UNL Center on Children, Families, and the Law; and a mother of four. She lives in Lincoln with her fantastic husband, where they are surviving being outnumbered by their unruly horde.

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