Waitress (26 Feb 2020)

Some notes before we start:

  • STANDARD REVIEW DISCLAIMER: I can’t act. I can’t sing. All my comments are strictly as a person who has seen other shows, and shouldn’t in any way be construed as me claiming to know what I am talking about or that I could do better.
  • Post-Research Additions (PRAs) will be in italics.
  • Spoilers: there will be show spoilers in this post. I will keep them between the two pictures of pie below. After the second pie, it will be more general blather about what I thought having seen the show without specific spoilers, but this will involve some of the themes in the show (although nothing that you can’t get from the first paragraph of the Wikipedia page).
  • Content warning: this post will touch on domestic violence/abuse.

Right, here goes:

You know, I like this blog business. It’s somewhere to stick all the nonsense thoughts that I’m relentlessly drafting all day. Due to the perpetual deadness of my phone, I had to nip into Ryman’s on the Strand so that I could capture my precious hot takes in a notebook (this was particularly painful since I have been hoarding stationery since the age of 5 with no use for it).

My pen dried up too but that just meant I got to dismantle it and blow into the ink cartridge which was a little nostalgic thrill.

So here I am in The Harp scribbling to type up later, with my half of session ale. I asked for zero/low alcohol but wasn’t keen on the offering. (Can you tell I’m super virtuous, because I’ve practically got the fluorescent ping pong bats out (PRA: these are apparently called “marshalling batons”) and it’s only going to get worse.)

ANYWAY

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

I just saw Waitress. Here are my thoughts, in more or less bullet form.

Cast

  • Sara Bareilles was and is incredible. There were a fair few songs, not least “She Used To Be Mine” which blew me away and made me think to myself “ROSE NEEDS TO SEE THIS”. Rose is my best friend, who knows about acting and singing. I would hesitate to recommend any musical performance to her as she can listen to something I consider perfectly capable and point out that it is sharp or flat or poorly acted.
    • (Not-quite PRA, but subsequent thought: I am pretty sure Rose has actually seen Waitress and recommended it to me.
    • Post-not-quite-PRA: I messaged her today, she has seen it, but is seeing it tonight with this cast. Her original cast did not have SB but did have the wonderful Jack McBrayer, who the man on the bar told me had interpreted Ogie very differently.)
  • The love interest, Doctor Pometter, looked familiar. I feel like in the film it was played by a Nathan Fillion-type (insert Missy Foreman-Greenwald quote) (PRA: it was. It was Fillion). This guy, though, looked familiar. Was he the original West End Phil in Groundhog Day? These guys all look the same to me.
    • (PRA: it is actually Gavin Creel, who was the original West End Elder Price! Hello!)
  • I can see Jack McBrayer making a good Ogie. I wonder what he did with it. I liked this guy too (PRA: Joel Montague) but honestly, aren’t we a bit done with the whole “nerd as comic relief” thing? I am. (PRA: I’ve since found an audio recording of JMcB’s performance online, which is almost certainly illegal. It is… different. He can’t sing at all which is magnificent. I can picture it so well. Kenneth Parcell all over.)
  • Band: these were on stage à la Come From Away, and I was grateful for it. As ever, my eye was drawn to the bassist (I do love me some deft fingers) but to be honest, the whole band would be on my To Do list. That conditional tense is working particularly hard for the pianist though, who was female and therefore spared my affection.
  • (PRA: the original cast recordings linked below feature Kimiko Glenn (who you, well I, know from Orange Is The New Black and as the voice of Stefani Stilton in Bojack Horseman) as Dawn. I can see her as an excellent Dawn, not that there was anything wrong with Dawn as current cast in London, and her voice in the recording gives me very strong Chenoweth vibes.)

Cryometer

I cry easily, especially in musicals, and any show will have a cry score. This was a whopping FIVE CRY SHOW. Almost unprecedented.

They were minor weeps, not the snotty, gasping for air, blurring-your-vision-for-the-last-five-songs cries of Hamilton. It was more typical musical crying – sad or sweet moments, emotional manipulation with key changes, big notes, harmonies, that sort of thing.

The ones I remember were primarily songs to the future baby, as well as (of course), the soaring She Used To Be Mine. But the main one was a song by Old Joe, an older man giving life advice. I mean, how could I not?

The introduction to that song was really distractingly familiar. I couldn’t identify what it reminded me of at the time, and as I write have now forgotten how the song goes (PRA: here’s the song from the original cast, and the intro is pretty much First Day Of My Life by Bright Eyes – my tear ducts had no chance).

General thoughts

(for which I should probably issue an Attempted Wokeness Alert)

It was so nice that a female character found fulfilment outside a man (although being the childless cynic I am, it would be nice for that to also have been without a child, or for there to have been an implication that that would be possible). It was also satisfying that they didn’t make an effort for Dr P to suddenly be a villain or for his wife to be conveniently awful, giving an easy get out for Jenna to then be with him.

There was a same-sex couple in the… ensemble? is that the word? I hate that I notice, and I don’t want casting to be a check-box, but just like racial diversity, it is still something I pick up on and am grateful for in a West End (or any) show. In particular, having a same-sex couple in the background (not that I am against them being in the foreground…), just living their lives, being on a date, dancing at a wedding, and never being commented on or used for plot, was brilliant to see and I should think would have been unheard of ten years ago. Just look at the shitshow when Strictly put two male dancers together as a one-off. This stuff is still important.

On diversity… I took slight issue with one character. There is a sassy black nurse. Is this too much of a trope? Probably not my place to comment on it, but isn’t this one of those things that crops up in loads of films and shows? The character was played well, and the audience loved her cheeky asides, but she had no other plot or role other than this. Something for me to research more, I suppose.

On the portrayals of domestic violence and abuse: the overt violence was a lot “milder” (if one can say that) than I remember the film being. I may be misremembering I suppose. Either way, it was just as shocking. Both in the choreographed flashbacks of Jenna’s parents and in the scenes with her husband, it was particularly impactful seeing it on stage, especially in a musical. It may just be the shows I see, but it’s heavier stuff than the usual fluff of musical theatre (although I feel like they are becoming darker/more complex of late). But that ties in with why Waitress makes such a great musical. Just as the bleakness of Jenna’s life contrasts with the delightful, twee pies and diner aesthetic, the usual upbeatness of musical theatre is another jarring juxtaposition that worked for me.

On Dawn and Ogie…

The character of Dawn was, as with most “nerdy” or “never been kissed” types, a pretty huge “there but for the grace of god go I” for me. A “quirky” (heaven preserve us), detail-driven, perfectionist who had never dated and worried both about meeting the wrong person, and meeting the right person and him dismissing her. When He Sees Me was a particularly potent summary of my pre-dating fears. Wonderful comic choreography too. It produced a little throat lump but was too innately funny to add one to the cryometer. It will be relistened at length though.

I liked Ogie. I did, despite my hesitation of “isn’t it funny what a nerd he is” being absolutely sledgehammered with him. But what the fuck is going on with Never Getting Rid Of Me? It’s a kooky portrayal of meeting after online date where a man is convinced that woman is The One, and vows to hang around until he makes her see things the same way. This kind of shit used to be romantic, and he appears unthreatening in the show (although don’t they always?) but I think it’s time to put the boombox down and respect a no, lads. This couple ends up happy, so we are told that this behaviour can be justified and rewarded, that there is value in refusing to respect a woman’s decision. Bollocks to it all, really.

I think I was also disappointed in Dawn’s story – as is often the case, a woman is set up as complex and knowing what she likes, cautious and sensible, and yet her defences fall and she is immediately wooed by some simple fact – here, that both she and Ogie like civil war history. Sure, shared interests are important, and the show does try to imply it is some in-the-stars fate bollocks, or at least a broader compatibility, by also including the fact that they both like whipped cream separate from the pie to preserve the crunch and get the ratio right (on which they are absolutely correct). But I can’t get much satisfaction in their love story. It was good for comedy, but tied up so quickly and simply that any personality that had been established for Dawn in When He Sees Me was reduced to her just being “perfect for Ogie.” Ogie at least had a slightly broader personality (some of it creepy) what with his “poems” and stories about his cat. Maybe I’m being overly cynical.

Further rambles below.

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

Waitress was previously a film (PRA: and a book before apparently). I hadn’t thought about it for a long time.

It was originally recommended to me by my first boyfriend, in uni. I bought the DVD for myself from Amazon. These were the days when my bank statements still got sent home home (as opposed to uni) and were liable to be opened there, so I had to craft myself an excuse for buying it because (a) my parents didn’t know about my boyfriend yet (that only happened roughly a year in) and (b) it shouldn’t be for me because I was busy being Diligent Student. I think the lie was only needed because the purchase was exposed when I clicked the wrong delivery address, rather than the bank statements being read.

It’s only these days I notice the weirdness of this dynamic, and quite how much I remained a child, remained parented as a child, well into university, a time where the idea is to gain independence.

I also wonder how much of it was purely my perception, self-policing based on pressure that I only assumed was being put on me.

To some extent, isn’t a that lot of parenting, though? The whole “go to your room before I count to three” – don’t most parents not actually know what happens after three, and just rely on their tone and the fear it instils?

I have no authority to talk about parenting. I’ve never done it, but would like to. Things like this terrify me though. What if my child is scared of me, grows up to have a memory (whether accurate or not) of an overprotective, over-strict ogre? What if my child thinks I am pushing for something that I’m not? What if some choice I make in my life or throwaway comment has a massive unintended impact on my (still fictional) child when they themselves are an adult (think Jenna’s flashbacks).

There have been a few things that were said to me as a child that still stick with me, that have an ongoing impact, but which I have since brought up and the people have no memory of it. Things from my parents, a schoolfriend using a racial slur, words that still choke me up or inform my decisions but to them were nothing and, in some cases, not even said out of malice.

It is also weird that I have noticed an easy win for the cryometer in shows or songs or films is parent-child relationships, but that as I get older I start looking at them from a different perspective. I have gone from “I wish I had/didn’t have a relationship like that with my parent” to “I hope I do/don’t have a relationship like that with my child.” Is this some hormonal shift? I’m certainly broody a lot but without wanting a child imminently. Is it purely age? Is it that as more and more of my peers have children it hits home that that is what is expected of me, or, if I want to have biological children, required of me in a relatively short period of time?

It is a really odd moment when you suddenly realise your parents were people as well as your parents. I have no idea what my parents were or are like external to their relationships to me. I hope I don’t have that with my child.

Anyway, to round it off – I have a playlist of songs about parenting that I love, and that that make me wish I had a child so I could appreciate the songs even more (what better reason to procreate). There’s something so much more moving in that love and conflict than there is in romantic love. Lady Bird made me bawl more than any romance ever could.

Here’s a selection of songs from that playlist that have given me the theatre-sobs, and thanks for reading.

  • Abba – Slipping Through My Fingers. This one made me a snotty mess after pints of wine (a combination of (a) being (willingly) coerced into buying a bottle, and (b) the no-glass theatre policy).
  • Hamilton (spoilers I guess) – the two songs that perfectly bookend Philip Hamilton’s life are so moving and important to me as to probably warrant a blog post of their own one day so no more on that.
  • Gavin Osborn – Holding It Together. A beautiful song about the very English repression of feelings as a daughter leaves home which again made me (and the girl next to me) a snotty mess during Stories For The Starlit Sky (Daniel Kitson).(NB – the tracks are mislabelled on Spotify and on Amazon. What is labelled “Dancing With His Dad” is in fact Holding It Together, and vice versa.
  • Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – He’s My Boy. This is a bit outside my usual since the song is very specifically about a son, so I could only really put myself in the shoes of the mother, which would of course be a stretch at this stage in my life. Still, it makes the list.

See ya, pals.

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