What do you do if one of your waitresses calls in sick shortly before their shift? Presumably the answer is try and call someone else to cover their shift, or make do using the staff who are around. Not quite so easy if it’s a highly trained and well-rehearsed actor playing the lead in a musical, but that’s why we have understudies. So what happens when the lead and both understudies in Waitress call in sick on the same day? The answer in that case is unfortunately to cancel the show, but then fly a Broadway actor across the Atlantic and have her ready to perform a week of shows within 48 hours, despite not having performed the role in months. And, as luck would have it, we were there to catch a couple of those super standby performances!
Mrs Mummy has been nagging Mummy to get tickets to Waitress for quite some time now. It’s a show that has been on our list for a while (having narrowly missed seeing it last time we were in New York) and Mrs Mummy is rather a fan of Lucie Jones. Mummy eventually got her act together on Christmas Day and bought some tickets in the TodayTix Boxing Day sale, to make sure we caught Lucie as Jenna while she was still in the show. So were were a teeny bit disappointed to discover that she was off sick last week. But also incredibly excited to learn that we would instead be seeing Desi Oakley, who had formerly played Jenna in the US tour, and had been flown over especially to cover the sickness spreading through the diner.
Once again, we went separately on consecutive nights, meaning Mummy had the pleasure of seeing Oakley’s West End debut and came home raving about her, while Mrs Mummy had to wait for another 24 hours to see for herself. Mrs Mummy also came home raving about Desi Oakley (and bearing pies for the whole family, since Mummy had failed to buy her own pie the previous night and then suffered pie envy). Almost a week later, neither of us can get our heads around how someone can put on such a spectacular performance with limited rehearsal time, so many months after having last played the role, let alone with jetlag! On both nights, Oakley was absolutely stunning and gave no indication whatsoever that she had just stepped into the role (other than one moment on the first night where she cracked up at David Hunter’s unexpected antics). Seemingly word perfect, her portrayal was nuanced and she showed real chemistry with the rest of the cast. Rarely has Mummy heard a more sustained, or deserved, round of applause than Oakley received at the end of ‘She used to be mine‘. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the role more perfectly, even fully rehearsed and with their brain in the right time zone.
As for the show itself, Waitress is a really feel good show with a beautiful score and a heartwarming, if predictable, story, which just about avoids being as sickly sweet as pie. Set in an American diner, it tells the tale of a waitress trapped in a loveless marriage who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. Desperate to escape her emotionally abusive husband, she sets out on a quest to enter pie-making competition with a lucrative prize fund. Since all good musicals need a love interest, she also has an affair with her gynaecologist, Dr Pomatter (David Hunter). And it’s not just Jenna who’s at it, with colleagues Becky (Marisha Wallace) and Dawn (Hannah Tointon) also entering unexpected relationships, culminating in a hilarious scene towards the start of Act 2 which involves all three couples.
The entire cast are impressive, with standout performances coming from Hunter as the endearingly awkward Dr Pomatter and Piers Bate (understudying) as Jenna’s narcissistic husband, Earl. We’ve been fans of Marisha Wallace since seeing her (also as an understudy) in Something Rotten on Broadway and she certainly didn’t disappoint as Becky. In a further shout to amazing understudies, Mrs Mummy had Nathaniel Morrison as Ogie, who she thought was entertainingly energetic. (Mummy enjoyed Joel Montague in the role at the previous performance.) Although not a dance show, it’s still visually entertaining with lots of intricate movement direction and some hilarious moments. We also loved the way that the band appeared on the stage during some scenes, and were really integrated into the action.
All in all, Waitress is a delicious treat and we would heartily recommend an evening at the diner while it’s still open.
RATING: Raindrops, Whiskers, Kettles, Mittens and Brown Paper Packages.
Waitress is playing at the Adelphi Theatre until 4 July 2020.