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PREVIEW: Sparkling Waitress: The Musical Comes to Minneapolis (Hennepin Theatre Trust)

Ryan G. Dunkin and the cast of the National Tour of Waitress. Photo by Joan Marcus.

There are two classic definitions of pornography: material that is designed to arouse the senses, and something that you know when you see it. As far as food porn goes, Waitress: The Musical matches those definitions and more. This show will stoke a profound desire to eat pie, make your sides hurt from laughing so much, and probably abet your pie-eating with justifications like “If I laugh this much, I’ll definitely burn off another slice in Act II.” It’s also one of the best Broadway musicals of recent years.

One of the show conceits is that Jenna (Desi Oakley, center) constantly creates new pie recipes to match her moods. Also pictured: Charity Angel, Lenne Klingaman. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Waitress: The Musical made a splash even before it hit Broadway in 2016, thanks to a score by pop songwriter Sara Bareilles, an all-female creative team, and its focus on interesting and well-rounded female characters. This is of historical significance, of course, but in practical terms for audiences it means this: although you may recognize elements of people, places, and events, what unfolds has a tangibly different focus and rhythm than most musicals that you’ve seen. It feels very different to from the norm – not in a bad way, but with welcome novelty – to see this women-centered and women-driven story unfold with interesting, well-rounded characters that you feel like you’d like to know more about afterwards.

If you’re not familiar with Waitress, this musical is a stage adaptation of the hit 2007 indie film of the same name. The story follows Jenna, a waitress at an old-fashioned diner who bakes pies…to put it mildly. If that short description doesn’t excite you, you haven’t seen what this woman does with words, flour, sugar, and butter. Even before the show starts, the smell of hot pies is piped into the theatre lobby, and after seeing so many pies being made and enjoyed onstage, you’re probably going to be opening your wallet during intermission to buy one yourself. Don’t believe that? At a recent Broadway performance that I viewed, the pie lines were actually longer than the restroom lines.

Bryan Fenkart’s doctor (right) courts Desi Oakley’s baker. Sort of. In a kitchen. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Jenna is trapped in a marriage that has turned from spoiled to downright mold-ridden, dreaming of winning a high stakes pie-baking contest when a huge revelation happens: she is pregnant. This is the setup for the first of many showstoppers, the trio “The Negative”, a darkly humorous song about a pregnancy test, of all things.

Speaking of showstoppers, the music and lyrics of Waitress were written by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles. It’s one of the best Broadway scores of recent years, and the songs are tightly intertwined with the excellent book by Jessie Nelson; paired with the onstage action, several become elevated to outrageous comedy, while others pull at your heartstrings like nobody’s business. When seeing the show on Broadway, my date reported during intermission that her stomach was hurting from laughing so much. The great heights of laughter are matched with the seriousness and drama of other scenes; at the 11-o’clock number “She Used To Be Mine”, when all seems lost, tears abounded in the house.

Waitress: The Musical is, simply put, one of the best musicals playing on Broadway today and currently touring. In its Minneapolis stop, the part of Lulu will be played alternately by two local residents: Prewitt Anderson, age 5, of Bayport, and Estela Antivilo, age 4, of Maple Grove.

The Waitress national tour comes to the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis,
from November 21-26.

Desi Oakley as Jenna in the National Tour of Waitress. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Listen to Sara Bareilles sing “She Used to Be Mine” from Waitress.

Basil Considine