Life can often be terribly messy and completely blissful at the same time. Case in point: Jenna Hunterson, an expectant mother and pie baking extraordinaire at the center of the heartfelt joy and compelling drama within Waitress, the 2016 Tony Award-nominated musical receiving an outstanding local premiere courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Broadway Series at the Schuster Center.
Featuring firm direction by Diane Paulus, a terrifically introspective and humorous pop-infused score by Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles, and a witty, relevant book by Jessie Nelson based on the 2007 film of the same name by the late Adrienne Shelly, Waitress finds hard-working, meek and unassuming Jenna (an excellent Christine Dwyer) at a critical crossroads. Stuck in a loveless marriage with her abusive husband Earl (Jeremy Woodard, a believably one-dimensional jerk), she receives overdue respect and passionate romance in the arms of her handsome gynecologist Dr. Pomatter (a delightfully charming and neurotic Steven Good). But is her affair, her pursuit of happiness, really worth it, especially with a little one on the way? Actually, Jenna doesn’t want a kid, readily admitting to Dr. Pomatter that her pregnancy is not a party. Even so, the birth of her child, the eventual true love of her life, holds the key to realizing her existence has only just begun.
Dwyer, a stunning Elphaba in the 2012 Dayton engagement of “Wicked,” returns with understated finesse, warmly tapping into the therapeutic nature of Jenna’s penchant for pies (her mother was also a pro in the kitchen, an element deserving deeper exploration) and providing a superb transformation late in the show climaxing with the emotional ballad She Used to Be Mine coupled with Jenna’s decision to finally take matters into her own hands. In addition to the aforementioned Good, she receives wonderful support from the sassy, motherly Melody A. Betts and kooky, naïve Ephie Aardema as Jenna’s thoughtful co-workers Becky and Dawn, respectively. Betts, a vocal powerhouse, notably provides a knockout rendition of the soulful I Didn’t Plan It. Jovial standout Jeremy Morse is a hoot as Dawn’s overexcited beau Ogie, a plum comedic role he also portrayed on Broadway. Ryan G. Dunkin commands attention as Cal, head cook and Jenna’s boss.
Paulus’ first-rate artistic team includes choreographer Lorin Latarro (filling many transitions with expressive fluidity), scenic designer Scott Pask, costumer Suttirat Anne Larlarb, lighting designer Ken Billington, sound designer Jonathan Deans, music director Robert Cookman, and conductor/pianist Lilli Wosk.
Without a doubt, this national tour of Waitress, on par with the original Broadway production, brings Dayton’s 2018-2019 season to a winning close.
Waitress continues through Sunday, June 30 at the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton. Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Act One: 75 minutes; Act Two: 65 minutes. Tickets are $26-$115. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit ticketcenterstage.com.