DETROIT – You know a show is going to be good when even the “silence your cell phone” announcement before the show begins can bring an audience to laughter. Sung by composer Sara Bareilles, the announcement acts almost as the overture, providing a hint of the style of comedy and music ahead.
The show begins immediately with Jenna, played by newcomer Jisel Soleil Ayon, front and center questioning her life choices as another day of small-town life in the diner she practically lives in is opening up again. Every day is exactly the same in this diner, but (spoiler alert) an unexpected pregnancy flips her life upside down and thus begins the journey towards inner-strength and the power of choice.
I believe Waitress lasted so long on Broadway because of Bareilles’ powerful score. It also helps that the show’s 11 o’clock number has become a staple on singing competitions. Search “She Used to be Mine” on YouTube and you will find a plethora of performances. This cast specifically does an extraordinary job attaching emotion to each song. The actors and actresses aren’t just singing, they are fully embodying the lyrics, stressing particular words and phrases to convey complete feelings of anger, happiness or even titillation.
I have seen the show in past iterations but was surprised by all of the moments of comedy that this cast was able to extract. The physical humor alone, especially from Ogie, played by Brian Lundy, and Dr. Pomatter, played by David Socolar, was delightfully over-the-top. The slapstick brought in these much-needed moments of laughter to help balance some of the show’s heavier themes. A standout was Lundy’s performance of “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” with his chaotic Riverdance-like moves and operatic belt.
Detroit-native Dayna Marie Quincy made her principal debut as Becky. Quincy, who normally plays the quick-talking Nurse Norma, was able to step up to the role for the first time right in her hometown. Quincy felt like a natural in her portrayal of Becky, none would have been the wiser that she was the understudy. Her electrifying vocals for the Act II opening number “I Didn’t Plan It” brought the house down.
There is a new superstar in Jisel Soleil Ayon who is onstage for almost the entire two and a half hours. Not only is she delivering Bareilles’ tough score with grace and clarity, but she is also performing carefully choreographed movements with nonstop prop and partner work. The way Ayon is able to deliver the wide range of emotions that Jenna’s character goes through each night is nothing short of a revelation. Her younger age also brings a new depth to Jenna as she navigates the choices her character must make. This is a vocally and physically demanding role and Ayon gives it her all from start to finish. Her powerful rendition of “She Used to be Mine” brought audible tears from the audience and a lengthy applause.
Waitress is one of the very few shows that features an all-female creative team with a book by Jessie Nelson, music by Sara Bareilles, new tour direction by Susanna Wolk and new tour choreography by Abbey O’Brien. Even if you have had a taste of the pie before, it’s worth making another trip to the diner.
The Waitress national tour played at the Detroit Music Hall from March 15-20th and continues with a stop in Flint, MI this weekend. Visit BroadwayInDetroit.com to see upcoming shows.