Waitress, Bristol Hippodrome

MOST lovers of the 2007 film Waitress – and there are millions of them throughout the world – will be happy with Jessie Nelson’s adaptation and Sara Bareilles music and lyrics. Between them they have captured the quirky humour and distinct Southern States of America atmosphere.

The music, which for the most part works almost like an opera in that it helps to move the storyline on throughout the scene, has just the right hint of Country and Western, with a little Blues and Soul, to anchor it in the right area,

Those who come to see this production will also be happy with the performances of the three English-born actresses cast in the leading roles of Jenna, Becky and Dawn. So heavy and realistic are their accents that it took a little while to become attuned to them and enjoy the throwaway humour that was continually pouring from them. There was certainly nothing to betray Chelsea Halfpenny’s Gateshead birthplace in the way in which she laced even the most serious lines in her dialogue with humour. You can imagine Cher playing this role, but this was an original – no pale copy of her or Keri Russell who created the character in the film.

You could believe that when she became pregnant, faced with the decision of whether to stay with her abusive lazy husband Earl, run off with her sympathetic Doctor Pomatter, or strike out for independence, she … well I will leave you to see the show and discover what course she took.

As a trio and individually the girls tackled their vocal opportunities with a relish that brought out all the fun and drama in the lyrics. When offered the shows greatest hit, She Used to Be Mine, Chelsea duly turned it into a show-stopper. Despite that reception, can I make a plea on her behalf to the composer and arranger to look again at her solo numbers. Nearly all of them required her to soar up to the top of her register at full volume time after time, with the result that a coarseness crept into the presentation.

The men in Jenna’s life, her husband Earl, an excellent study of selfishness and greed, brutal and weak-willed in the hands of Tamlyn Henderson, and Matt Jay-Willis as her tender-hearted, but equally weak-willed  romantic Doctor Pomatter, gave her a chance to play high drama with the husband and high comedy with the Doctor. Chelsea Halfpenny proved to be equally adept in both styles of performance, and Tamlyn Henderson and Matt Jay-Willis ideal foils.

When it came to high comedy the boisterous Sandra Marvin (Becky) and timid Evie Hoskins (Dawn) milked every drop of humour out of their relationships with Christopher Hunt (Cal) and George Crawford (Ogie).  Add Michael Starke (Joe), a lovely, sympathetic and curmudgeonly old gentleman, and  Scarlet Gabriel’s world-weary Nurse Norma and you have strength and depth throughout the characters.

A small ensemble, only six in number,  proved to be more than adequate to their task, never missing a beat or a trick providing fine visual and vocal support to every scene in which they were involved. And having waited all evening to the final scene Sophia Reed (or at some performances, Penelope Tovey) march confidently on as Jenna’s little daughter, and without trying, upstage all the  principal characters.


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