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Like apple pie, nothing is quite as American as an all singing, all dancing, feel good musical.
Waitress at the New Theatre Oxford transported the venue’s packed-out audience to small town America before the show even started. The bar and lounge were decorated to look like a diner, with blue chequered table clothes, themed cocktails and the smell of baked goods pumped into the space.
The hit West End musical is based on a 2007 film of the same name and the show follows Jenna, a waitress at Joe’s Pie Diner and talented baker, who is trapped in an abusive relationship with her husband, Earl.
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When Jenna (Chelsea Halfpenny) discovers she is accidentally pregnant she pins her hopes of escaping her horrid marriage on a pie baking competition. Her world is further turned upside down when she meets her new doctor, the handsome Dr. Pomatter (Matt Willis).
The show is as colourful, sweet and fresh as you would expect a pie straight out of the oven to be. Music by Grammy winner Sara Bareilles sets the tone for the show as an entirely unique and modern kind of stage musical, which is both fun and accessible to theatre lovers young and old.
Halfpenny is a tour de force as the talented but sheepish Jenna, carefully balancing the humour of the show with the serious topic of an abusive relationship.
Her performance as Jenna is funny, sweet and altogether enjoyable.
Halfpenny is supported in the show by Scarlet Gabriel as Becky and Charlie Martin as Dawn, who play fellow waitresses at the diner and Jenna’s closest friends.
Martin, in particular, is hilarious as the socially anxious, neurotic and nerdy Dawn. She takes a character which, in the wrong hands, could be entirely hyperbolic and makes her engaging and realistic. At the same time, she retains the quiet outrageousness of Dawn’s personality.
Much praise must be paid to Scott Pask’s gorgeous set design. The design is both practical in its transformational aspects and id also thematically sound, from the moment the curtain goes up you are transported into Jenna’s world.
Enjoyment was palatable around the theatre and the audience were enthralled by the show, with many in fits of laughter at Mark Willshire as a the geeky but endearing Ogie.
Much like the plot of the show itself, which veils the dark topic of domestic abuse behind the sickly sweetness of a romance driven musical, the real life joy of being back in a theatre was tinged by misfortune.
The opening night of Waitress in Oxford on April 25 was cancelled as several members of the cast came down with Covid-19. A creeping reminder that despite the lack of restrictions, a virus which wreaked havoc on the arts sector for two years still lurks in the shadows.
Despite the cancellation, Tuesday night's performance of the show was a steller testament to the resilience of theatre and the absolute joy that it brings audiences.
Waitress is has all the ingredients for a successful show and the result is one you’ll want to take a bite out of, again and again.
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