Review: Waitress shows what “baking can do”

By Zachary Klein

Sugar, butter and flour – a recurring theme throughout Sara Bareilles’ pop musical Waitress – apparently mix well with a fire alarm, as patrons who attended Saturday’s performance of the national tour at State Theatre New Jersey would say. 

That’s because about ten minutes into the show, actors ran off the stage and audience members were flabbergasted about what exactly had just occurred. As the adage goes, “The show must go on,” and after about 15 minutes, the entire company was back in position ready to continue the performance. 

Even with the false fire alarm, the company did not fail to produce an excellent performance, led by Jisel Soleil Ayon, a fearless young woman who plays the leading role of Jenna. 

Ayon proved that it does not matter how much experience one has to play the vocally demanding role of Jenna. This marks her touring debut, having recently graduated from California State UniversityFullerton, according to her bio. 

Through her meticulous choices and amazing riffs, Ayon’s renditions of her character’s songs were among the best I have ever heard, even with this being my fourth trip to the diner. I was completely moved at the end of the ballad “She Used to be Mine.” Because of this, I sense that Ayon will make her Broadway debut in the near future and will be creating her own legacy in no time. 

The chemistry between each of the groups of actors onstage were also top-notch. Ayon, Dominique Kent and Gabriella Marzetta play the three waitresses – Jenna, Becky and Dawn – and their dynamic energy reflects what one would expect from any group of close-knit coworkers.

Kent and Marzetta also nail their relationships with their significant others in the show – Jake Mills, who plays Cal, the cook/manager of the diner, and Brian Lundy, who plays Ogie, a nerdy man who Dawn meets on a dating website. 

Lundy delivers everything one would expect from the description of Ogie that Marzetta’s Dawn recites during the show – a quirky young man who partakes in some very unusual activities. He was hilarious and left me laughing every time he made an appearance on stage. 

Also of note are Jenna’s two lovers – her husband Earl, played by Shawn W. Smith, and her gynecologist and lover on the side Dr. Pomatter, played by David Socolar. Smith’s strong vocals and expertise of playing a jerk led to a captivating performance while Socolar’s mannerisms and voice reminded me of Chris Perfetti’s character on the TV show “Abbott Elementary,” which in turn created a version of Pomatter that I had never seen before but still thoroughly enjoyed. 

There were a couple of places where this production fell flat, however. When done right, the character of Old Joe, the owner of the diner, has the audience laughing with each appearance. Unfortunately, actor Michael R. Douglass did not deliver on these points and had trouble reaching easy notes during his character’s solo “Take it From an Old Man.”

Another thing that was lackluster were the sets. In the Broadway production, there were clearer set changes between the diner and other locations. This production had limited other settings, and the curtain closed in on these other places because the stage of the State Theatre was too wide and narrow, creating very plain set transitions from a diner setup that was almost identical to what I saw in New York. 

Overall, what will likely be my last visit ever to Waitress was one that I will not forget. Every actor put their heart on that stage to perform a show that will soon no longer be performed regularly on professional stages. Waitress shows how one can take poor life circumstances and turn them around, which is why it has become a global hit since its premiere six years ago. 

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