It only takes a taste when it’s something special, or in the case of the Tony award nominated Broadway musical Waitress, it only took a listen of its original cast album for fans to be hooked and wanting to see the show up on stage.
The musical, based on the 2007 film of the same name, features an array of talent. With music and lyrics by Grammy award winning singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles, book written by producer and mother of Theater Camp’s Molly Gordon, Jessie Nelson, and an original cast fronted by Jessie Mueller, and Drew Gehling, Waitress soon got the attention of all kinds of theater goers.
The deliciously heartfelt show follows Jenna, a waitress in a small Southern town who unhappily discovers she’s pregnant with her abusive husband’s baby. With the help of her fellow waitress friends, the cranky owner of the diner she works at, and a neurotic but handsome gynecologist, Jenna takes control of her life and learns to be more than “happy enough.”
Musically the show weaves through all sorts of tones with ease and consistency. Jenna’s ballads evoke untamed humanity and brutal honesty. Hers and Pomatter’s duets are filled with passion and sincerity. Earl’s and Ogie’s songs, though very in different tone, have a country twang that flesh out the environment of the show and cultivate an undeniable energy.
Bareilles’s lyrics, like her own songs, are simple yet thoughtful and carry so much weight with them, allowing audiences to get swept up in Jenna’s journey. The balance between hopeful and heartbreak is effortless and truly illustrates the ups and downs of life.
Musical Theater fans have been vying for more accessibility to theater especially with the rise and success of more contemporary musicals that have become increasingly popular with younger generations. Emphasis has been placed on releasing more“pro-shots” or a professionally recorded version of the musical while it’s still running on Broadway.
The hit Broadway show Hamilton written and starred in by modern musical icon Lin Manuel Miranda delighted fans and created new ones after its pro-shot was released on Disney+ in 2020. The fact that this was in the middle of the pandemic also provided some much needed entertainment for those missing Broadway and live performances.
After the success of Hamilton, many musicals took the opportunity to capitalize on the pro-shot trend. During a 2021 run of Waitress on Broadway starring Bareilles as the titular role, a pro-shot was filmed and was soon announced to be released in the future.
Waitress: The Musical premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on June 12, 2023 and was slated for public release later that year. Just in time for the holidays, the film was released in a partnership with Fathom Events at select movie theaters starting December 7.
In addition to Bareilles’s Jenna, she is also joined onstage by original cast members Drew Gehling, Christopher Fitzgerald, and Dakin Matthews, as well as Kaitlin Houlahan as Dawn, Charity Angél Dawson as Becky and Bareilles’s partner Joe Tippet as Earl.
Each cast member brings their own flare to their character. Bareilles and Gehling’s chemistry is captivating, Dawson’s humor and candor is unmatched, but Bareilles really steals the show as Jenna, using her own vocal style to add news depths to show stoppers like “She Used To Be Mine.” Her expressions and mannerisms as Jenna are also spot on.
The film also utilizes editing in a creative way that cultivates a more film-like feel for the musical. Slow transitions, close ups, and reduced motion velocity are technical aspects that differentiate Waitress: The Musical from a static looking pro-shot.
These added effectives don’t distract from the musical performances but accentuate their meaning, creating a spectacle that is still rooted in realism. The most important beats and emotional moments are accentuated by the careful combination of editing techniques and raw performance.
By the time the cast takes their bows at the conclusion of the film, you feel as if you’ve been transported to the theater and have just witnessed the show alongside the Broadway audience. A standing ovation is sure to sweep through the crowd whether seeing the show live or in the movie theater.
Broadway shows stand in a league of their own with the magical ability to captivate and immerse audiences into a world right in front of them- and that feeling doesn’t have to be tethered to live performance.
Combining cinematic aspects with a show’s rhythm has always remained crucial to a compelling pro-shot and Waitress: The Musical exemplifies this magnificently. Theater lovers can only hope that their local theaters will be graced with more pro-shots so that those who can’t make it to Broadway can experience the stories and songs that inspire and move them so deeply.