Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the North
Phil Hopkins
Arts & Travel Editor
12:00 PM 15th September 2021

A Slice Of Award-Winning American Pie

Waitress is an unlikely musical but, because it wrestles with issues that have galvanised mankind since time immemorial – loneliness, female empowerment, friendship and other such themes – it is hardly surprising that writers, Jessie Nelson and Sara Bareilles, have been able to sit back and watch both the dollars and the awards roll in.

This Leeds Grand Theatre offering was Broadway’s first ever musical staged using an all-female production team: written, produced and enjoyed by women the world over.

However, that would suggest that men are excluded from this show which is certainly not the case for it is not only laced generously with a variety of theatrical ingredients, but it is also humorous and well written if, for me, lacking in a musical number that I genuinely remember almost 24 hours after watching the show.

Think of Oliver!, Fame the Musical, Oklahoma and, if you are anything resembling a musical theatre buff, you will know a ‘famous’ song from each musical score.

But, in fairness, they’ve been around a lot longer so let’s see if Waitress’ music gathers traction over time and, indeed, observe whether or not it achieves an extended life beyond the superficial fawnings of West End critics, always eager for the chance to dole out the superlatives.

Last night I was desperate to listen to the new and unfamiliar lyrics but, at the beginning, the small band overwhelmed the cast and, for a time, it felt like a competition as to who would be heard. Just as I thought they had calmed, they were back so, in truth, I lost some of the show, much to my disappointment. That rarely happens so the fact that it did at Waitress, tells me there was a sound production problem. Needs reviewing.

Despite this musical intrusion the cast were brilliant and shone brightly.

Lucie Jones as the main protagonist, Jenna, the young waitress pregnant to an egotistic red neck but trapped in a loveless marriage, has come a long way since her X Factor triumph in 2009. She really is a fine actress with a superb voice.

However, every lead is often only as good as her ‘wingers’ and she had two stunners in Evelyn Hoskins and Sandra Marvin playing fellow waitresses, Dawn and Becky, the former being somewhat ‘mousy’ until she discovers love in the shape of geeky Ogie (George Crawford) – a cracking character actor – the latter busty, brassy and brilliant!

Waitress tells the story of Jenna, an expert pie-maker who dreams of happiness. When hot new medic Dr Pomatter (Matt Jay-Willis), arrives in town her world – and his – are turned upside down.

But each of them is married and life becomes complicated.

It is a soft, gentle, reflective musical – not unlike Amelie – in that it gets you thinking and, as you laugh, you also experience an overbearing sadness because there are so many Dr Pomatter’s and Jenna’s in the world.

Yes, this may have been written and produced by women, but Waitress speaks a universal language and, as soon as I have heard all the lyrics that I missed, I feel sure that I too will roll out the superlatives but, for now, long-term judgement reserved. All the hallmarks of a great show but, this time, a production with some technical issues.

Leeds Grand Theatre
Until Saturday Sept 18th