The opening night of Waitress The Musical at Sunderland Empire was possibly the epitome of musical theatre bar none. A love story set in a diner, the lead in an unhappy marriage but devoted to her passion for baking love into pies and a series of relationships that are totally relatable - Waitress is THE feelgood musical, completely deserving of all its plaudits.
The premise is of a waitress (duh) who spends her days creating fabulous pies (thus pandering to the American obsession with fruit filled pastries) for the diner patrons where she works. Her marriage is a shell; on the outside she shows acceptance but inside her unhappiness and desire for more is what drives her forwards. Add to this some sass and innocence from her diner co-workers and we have all the ingredients for total immersion in the world of deep south, small town, road side diners.
Lucie Jones as the lead Jenna is beyond compare; her portrayal as an independent woman shackled by the traditions of small town America but with dreams to take her far beyond a stove-chained wife moved everyone in the audience. She brings innocence, wistful longing for a better life and yet a realism that counters the sugar coated happy ever after. Sandra Marvin as Becky, Jenna's bff is truly amazing - she reminded me of the great Aretha Franklin in Blues Brothers - sass, love, fun and pipes to rival the greatest. Evie Hoskins as Dawn, the innocent 3rd server of the diner trifecta adds a wonderful comedic element and plays wonderfully off George Crawford as her beau Ogie.
Jenna's love interest is Dr Pomatter, played by Matt Jay-Willis (he of the band Busted (whom I have seen live and I have to admit love their early 2000's tunes) Jay-Willis is wonderful, very reminiscent of a young Tom Hanks in both his mannerisms and understated comedic sensitivities. Of course he can sing, but his acting and timing are 1st class.
To be honest, the whole cast were totally wonderful; a warm and engaging group who elevated storytelling to the highest level and enveloped the audience in a warm hug of escapism. The stage and set were without doubt the best example in the country; I doubt the huge stage at the Empire has ever been used so perfectly - Sky Barnes (Stage Manger), Alex Sumner-Hughes (Director) and Sue Berry (Company Stage Manager) deserve awards for their delivery - in particular the number "She Used to be Mine" is possibly the most moving, and most brilliant stage scene I've ever seen.
There is so much humour in this show that some might be tempted to class it a comedy, yet the overarching premise is of never forgetting your dreams and remaining true to yourself. Waitress is a 5 star must see, very much worthy of a second slice and totally deserving of the full house standing ovation.
Waitress The Musical is on at Sunderland Empire until Saturday October 30th