‘Waitress’ brings wholesome cheer to San Jose just in time for the holidays

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The recipe for a hit Broadway show is difficult to find and even harder to execute. Impossible to replicate, each show requires different ingredients and measurements to find success onstage. For “Waitress,” the recipe is as simple as the sugar, butter and flour touted in the show’s lyrics — a heartful of engaging characters, a dash of comedic performance and a whole lot of catchy songs courtesy of pop artist Sara Bareilles. 

After a delicious debut on Broadway in 2013 that resulted in four Tony Award nominations, the Broadway show is closing up shop in January. But the musical lives on with touring and international productions. After stopping by the Bay Area last year at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, “Waitress” has come back for seconds, with the 2nd National Tour bringing the charming musical’s sweet-toothed tunes to San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts.

Based on a 2007 indie movie of the same name, “Waitress” is a small-town story with a big heart. The show follows Jenna (Bailey McCall), a waitress at a small diner who has a knack for making delicious and creatively named pies. Stuck in an abusive marriage, she resolves to change her life after finding out that she’s pregnant. Her journey along the way is filled with quirky best friends, a charmingly nerdy love interest and yes, many baking-related songs.

The heart of the musical is Bareilles’ music, which brings the characters to life with catchy bops and emotional ballads that make every laugh and tear of the story hit harder. The songs are classic Bareilles through and through, filled with addicting melodies and lyrical genius that rival even that of Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

Of course, the songs would not be the same without a talented cast to perform and dimensionalize them onstage. McCall’s “She Used To Be Mine,” sung with a tear-jerking vulnerability, caused even the grouchiest of audience members to get a lump in their throat. Clayton Howe makes Earl, Jenna’s deadbeat husband, even more reprehensible with his possessive but magnetic rendition of “You Will Still Be Mine.”

What stands out with this production’s cast is the heavy lean into the comedic aspect of the show. Laughs are bigger and better than ever before with this humorous cast telling the story of Jenna and her pies. David Socolar as Dr. Pomatter, Jenna’s gynecologist, brings a level of endearing neuroticism to the character that makes Dr. Pomatter, especially in raunchily humorous “Bad Idea” and “Bad Idea (Reprise).” Jenna’s fellow waitresses also bring charming hilarity to the diner, Gabriella Marzetta’s Dawn is delightfully adorkable while Kennedy Salters redefines bold and confident with her performance of Becky.

The cast’s excellent comedic timing cannot be discussed without a section dedicated to the nerdy Ogie, played by Brian Lundy, who is the comedic core of the show. Lyrically, Ogie’s exaggerated love ballad “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” toes the line between romantic persistence and the stalker-esque “no means yes” attitude. But when performed by Lundy, it becomes a side-splittingly hilarious ride that makes trying too hard look cool again. Lundy executes the song with exceptional comedic timing and whenever he’s onstage, the audience is in for an inadvertent ab workout.

“Waitress” has found the elusive recipe for being a hit show. Despite having the unfortunate timing to open on Broadway during the same awards season as “Hamilton,” the musical garnered a loyal fanbase and has cemented itself as a musical darling for years to come. With an excellent cast and earworm melodies that will (happily) be stuck in your head for weeks, “Waitress” has every ingredient baked to perfection.

Contact Julie Lim at [email protected].