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Waitress at Theatre Royal Brighton

Based on Adrienne Shelley’s 2007 American movie, Jessie Nelson’s 2015 musical adaptation tells the tale of Jenna (Chelsea Halfpenny) trapped in a small town in an abusive relationship with her husband Earl (a suitably melodramatic Tamlyn Henderson), as she faces an unwanted pregnancy whilst working as a waitress in a pie shop, where she also seems to make all the pies! Where on earth does she find the time and energy?!

WAITRESS. David Hunter 'Dr Pomatter' and Chelsea Halfpenny 'Jenna'. Photo Johan Persson.
WAITRESS. David Hunter ‘Dr Pomatter’ and Chelsea Halfpenny ‘Jenna’. Photo Johan Persson.

There are also sub-plots concerning two other waitresses, Becky (Wendy Mae Brown) attracted to Cal (Christopher D Hunt) and eccentric Dawn (Evelyn Hoskins) who is wooed by even more eccentric Ogie (George Crawford). All four are used to add humour to the show, which is, especially in Act One, very amusing at times, growing darker and more serious after the interval, especially after Jenna’s daughter is born.

Halfpenny gets the lion’s share of the musical numbers which she belts straight out front with great gusto, for example ‘She used to be Mine’ as the climax of Act Two. She has charm and charisma and is totally convincing in role: we empathise with her because she is “nice” – the “girl next door”… It is a shame that her enunciation is not always clear when she is singing: not just my comment – the lady sitting next to me who had come all the way from Birmingham to Brighton to see the show was commenting on it!

Doctor Pomatter (David Hunter), her gynaecologist, with whom she has an affair, is suave in the Doctor Kildare manner: his dialogue manages to ensure that he is a likeable character, even though he is married.

Joe, the owner of the pie shop, is subtly portrayed as an irascible old man, only, of course, to be revealed as the saviour of the plot right at the end of the musical. Michael Starke is superb in this role, and is given one of the best songs ‘ Take it From an Old Man’ which is truly heart-warming, and is indicative of the show as a whole.

In fact, there is not a weak member of this 25-strong cast who, having toured Waitress since September 2021, clearly know what they are doing, as well as making it fresh for each audience; some in fact also appeared in the West End production pre-Covid.

This is, as near as possible, a copy of the original Broadway production, with very imaginative direction (Diane Paulus), especially with regard to the delivery of props (especially pies) to the actors. The composite set, using a multitude of trucks and tables on castors, which must be fun on a raked stage such as Brighton’s Theatre Royal was imaginatively designed, with a superb backdrop of the wide-open sky and telegraph poles, by Scott Pask, and Sara Bareilles’ pleasant if not particularly memorable music is played by the stylish six-piece band led by Ellen Campbell.

The first night “full house” at Brighton obviously enjoyed the show – one enthusiastic audience member near me said that she had lived in the city for many years and never been to the theatre before, but would certainly now be attending again! – and it is certainly a musical to be recommended – if you are lucky enough to find any unsold tickets!!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

Treat yourself to a slice of five-star musical pie’ (The Times). Chelsea Halfpenny (9 to 5, BBC’s Casualty, ITV’s Emmerdale) stars as Jenna in the hit musical comedy WAITRESS alongside David Hunter (Waitress, Kinky Boots, Once) as Dr Pomatter, Wendy Mae Brown (The Book of Dust) as Becky and Evelyn Hoskins (Waitress, Spring Awakening) as Dawn.

WAITRESS tells the story of Jenna, an expert pie maker in a small town, who dreams of a way out of her loveless marriage. A baking contest in a nearby county and the town’s new doctor may offer her a chance at a new life, while her fellow waitresses offer their own recipes to happiness. But Jenna must find the courage and strength within herself to rebuild her life. This beautiful musical celebrates friendship, motherhood, and the magic of a well-made pie.

Book by Jessie Nelson
Music and Lyrics by Grammy Award-winner Sara Bareilles
Based upon the motion picture written by Adrienne Shelly
Directed by Tony Award-winner Diane Paulus

WAITRESS was originally produced by Barry & Fran Weissler and Norton and Elayne Herrick. The tour is produced by Barry & Fran Weissler and David Ian Productions.

Mon 11 Jul – Sat 16 Jul 2022
Theatre Royal Brighton
New Road, Brighton, BN1 1SD
2 hours 40 minutes incl. interval

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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