“Waitress,” the Broadway-bound musical adaptation of the 2007 indie film, is quite good. The problem is, it should be great.
The story is perfect for a musical. A young woman stuck in small-town America in an abusive marriage finally sees a way out via a pie-making contest with a big cash prize. Though one final setback makes her dream of winning unattainable, all ends well courtesy of a fairly predictable feel good plot.
Director Diane Paulus has assembled an incredible team of actors and artists who make the production look great. Despite the fluff factor of the script, every character is interesting and each has a depth to them that makes you want to see more.
Jessie Mueller, who won a Tony Award for playing Carole King in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” finds the weathered emotional core of Jenna, almost forcing you to identify with her plight. And when she sings, the sound itself is worth the price of admission.
Keala Settle tears up the stage and everything in her way as tough-talking waitress Becky. The vocal dynamo is at her sassy best when her own questionable relationship is revealed and she responds with the powerhouse “I Didn’t Plan It.” Drew Gehling is equally impressive as Jenna’s extra-marital love interest (and OB/GYN) Dr. Pomatter and Dakin Matthews is both curmudgeonly and touching as Joe, the owner of Joe’s Pie DIner.
Paulus’ direction is impeccable and she finds humor in small details like the minutiae of diner life and the awkwardness of being caught in the act. Her transitions are seamless, which is no small feat, given the size of the orchestra on stage.
Pop star Sara Bareilles wrote the music, and herein lies the problem. What you can hear over the excessively loud orchestra is safe, but forgettable. You shouldn’t be leaving the theater humming her 2013 hit “Brave.” It would feel so much better if you were humming something from an otherwise top-notch “Waitress.”
If you go
Through Sept. 27
American Repertory Theater, 64 Brattle St., Cambridge
$25 - $110