'Waitress' at Dr. Phillips Center may leave you still hungry


The cast of 'Waitress' at Orlando's Dr. Phillips Center. - IAN SUAREZ
  • Ian Suarez
  • The cast of 'Waitress' at Orlando's Dr. Phillips Center.
I grew up eating in New Jersey diners, where every meal started with a free plate of pickles, and ended with a slice of cake or pie bigger than your head. The problem was that while those supersized pastries appeared appetizing, more often than not they offered little flavor beyond overwhelming sweetness.

That memory came to mind while watching Waitress at the Dr. Phillips Center, which has come on tour to Orlando after winning award nominations and ardent fans on Broadway. Based on 2017 independent film by the late writer/director Adrienne Shelly, the musical stars Desi Oakley as Jenna (originated on film by Keri Russell), a small-town server who dreams of winning a baking contest so she can leave her loser husband Earl (Nick Bailey). An unplanned pregnancy leads to an adulterous affair with her geeky gynecologist Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart), as Jenna and her co-workers Dawn (Lenne Klingaman) and Becky (Charity Angel Dawson) struggle to juggle their tangled relationships.

The book by Jessie Nelson faithfully follows the plot points of Shelly’s original screenplay, and Sara Bareilles’ hipster pop score is perfectly pleasant, even if the only melody to stick in my memory the following morning was the preshow “turn off your cell phone” song. This touring cast is filled with first class performers, beginning with Oakley, who brings a pure, powerful belt to the title role; Dawson is satisfyingly sassy as Becky, and Klingaman dials Dawn’s awkwardness up to 11 to the crowd’s delight. And Lorin Latarro’s choreography visualizes the film’s iconic pie-making scenes in an imaginatively abstract way.

Unfortunately, while Waitress wants to be cute and quirky, Diane Paulus’ direction too often leans towards cloying and cheesy. Like cheddar on apple pie, this is a matter of aesthetic taste; the audience members in the row behind me roared with laughter at broad gags that made my eyes roll. Similar to Paulus’ productions of Pippin and Finding Neverland, this musical amps up the slapstick energy at the expense of any subtlety, reducing complex human characters into stock stereotypes: Earl is one-dimensional villain out of a domestic violence TV movie, while Dr. Pomatter is too much of a spastic stalker to embrace his infidelity with Jess.

Oakley nearly redeems the entire show with her eleventh hour anthem “She Used to Be Mine,” but it is a rare moment of psychological realism amid the sugar-coated shtick. Fans of Bareilles’ music should go home satisfied, but theatergoers who expect a side dish of emotional honesty with their musical comedy meal may leave Waitress still hungry.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at feedback@orlandoweekly.com.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club for as little as $5 a month.