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Concert Reviews:
"Waitress" has a winning recipe at the Fisher Theatreq

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2019

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"Waitress" is as sweet as any of the confections lead character Jenna Hunterson cooks up in her kitchen during the Tony Award-nominated musical.

But there's just enough (sometimes risqué) spice, and plenty of heart, to make the recipe a touch meatier.

Running through May 19 at the Fisher Theatre, "Waitress" adapts Adrienne Shelly's 2007 film about the small-town Southern waitress' journey into empowerment into a song-and-dance affair that's exuberantly entertaining but still conveys its more sober messages about domestic abuse (you can even buy small pies in the lobby to benefit Haven), unconditional friendship and self-realization. With a clever and nimbly paced book by Jessie Nelson and Sara Bareilles' richly melodic and not at all Broadway-typical songs, "Waitress" is nothing less a full and satisfying musical meal.

Christine Dwyer, as Jenna, is a solid hub around which "Waitress'" events flow. Nelson's script allows us insight into her passion for baking -- instilled by her mother and conveyed via evocative recurring interpretive motifs with some of the ensemble dancers -- and her struggle to overcome a spirit beaten by husband Earl (Jeremy Woodard), challenged by the impending arrival of an unwanted child and renewed by her gynecologist, Dr. Jim Pomatter, played with Clark Kent-like awkwardness by Steven Good. Dwyer's accent isn't always on the mark, but she nails "Waitress'" money moment, the heart-rending showpiece "She Used to Be Mine."

But it's OK if it's not Dwyer you most remember upon leaving the theater. The stage adaptation allows "Waitress'" support players and subplots to shine even more than in the film -- none moreso than scene-stealing Jeremy Morse as Ogie Anhorn, the socially manic Revolutionary War re-enactor and amateur musician who wins the heart of Jenna's fellow waitress Dawn and wins the crowd with tight comic timing and physical acuity. Morse takes the "Waitress" to 11 every time he's on stage and even his fellow actors seem to be near laughing at his antics.

Maiesha McQueen flashes plenty of sharp, urbane attitude as Becky, the other waitress as Joe's Diner and a kind of mother-confessor with a few secrets of her own, while Rheaume Crenshaw stands out in her short bursts as Nurse Norma. Ryan G. Dunkin, meanwhile, deftly plays his befuddlement as diner cook Cal, trying to sidestep the "estrogen asphyxiation" of his surroundings.

And amidst the consistently strong musical numbers, the Andrews Sisters-styled trifle "Club Knocked Up," performed by three ensemble members, is a particular hoot.

The lightness that dominates "Waitress" amplifies its more serious, and only occasionally dark, themes, but never to a point that mutes the musical's buoyant spirit. This is a celebration of basic triumph over adversity and, like the metaphoric desserts that provide so much solace, a sweet delight that even makes a second helping seem appealing.

"Waitress" runs through May 19 at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. $39 and up. 313-872-1000 or broadwayindetroit.

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

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