Saturday, November 10, 2018

Review of Atlantis' WAITRESS: Struggle for Self-Worth

November 11. 2018

"Waitress" had been one of the more recent musical sensations on Broadway since it opened in 2016.  With music and lyrics by pop artist Sara Bareilles and a book by Jessie Nelson (based on the 2007 film of the same title written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelley, starring Kerri Russell), it was an audience favorite and garnered a number of Tony nominations (no wins). Sara Bareilles recorded 12 of her songs from the show and released them as "What's Inside: Songs from Waitress," which debuted at #10 on the Billboard 200. 

It was very exciting when Atlantis announced in January 2018 that it would be staging "Waitress" this year. Manila will actually get to see this show before the West End, where it will still debut in 2019. Last month, the Philippine cast, led by West End musical theater star Joanna Ampil, was announced and further hyped up the local anticipation for this international premiere of this show.

Jenna Hunterson worked as a waitress and the chief pie baker of the Joe's Pie Diner. located somewhere in the American South. As imaginative as she was with the pies she created, Jenna was unhappy with the state of her marriage with her bum husband Earl and wanted out, but as bad timing would have it, she got pregnant, much to her dismay. 

The owner of the diner Joe encouraged Jenna to join a pie-baking contest and use the $20,000 prize money to make a new start, a suggestion seconded by her friends at the diner Becky and Dawn. Meanwhile, Jenna got to know her new gynecologist Dr. Jim Pomatter, who made the whole situation more complicated. 

Joanna Ampil's eloquently expressive singing voice was so beautiful to hear live. She can make even the most monotonous-sounding song so vibrant with her subtle vocal nuances. Her best song number was undoubtedly "She Used to be Mine" in Act 2. This desperate song, in which Jenna sang about losing her sense of self given her life's unfortunate circumstances, is the highlight of the show, and its best known song. Hearing Ampil sing this profound song live is already worth the price of admission.

Everyone else in the cast had been given their own featured song number to shine. Bituin Escalante was so sassy as the outspoken Becky. Her song "I Didn't Mean It" was one of the first songs of Act 2, sung following a startling plot surprise, and her growly rendition stopped the show right there. Maronne Cruz played the bespectacled, sweet and virginal Dawn. She sung about her apprehensions about meeting a man in the neurotically amusing song "When He Sees Me."

George Schultz played Jenna's gruff, ne'er-do-well husband Earl. He expressed his insecurity about their coming baby, pleading with Jenna not to love the baby more than him, in the song "You Will Still Be Mine." Bibo Reyes played the young, handsome Dr. Pomatter, who could not resist Jenna's goodies despite the restrictions. The gentle duet   "You Matter to Me" was his best song, showcasing his falsetto range. 

Nino Alejandro played Dawn's chubby nerdy suitor Ogie and he dominated his scenes with his outrageous antics, and with sprightly songs like "Never Ever Getting Rid Of Me." Steven Conde as the curmudgeonly Joe also got to sing one song "Take It from an Old Man" in which he advised Jenna about life matters. Dean Rosen as the long-haired sarcastic diner manager Cal was the only one in the main cast without a solo song number.

The rest of the ensemble include Luigi Quesada, Gerhard Krysstopher, Luis Marcelo, Emeline Celis Guinid, Teetin Villanueva, Sarah Facuri, and Jillian Ita-as.

Director Bobby Garcia efficiently led his crew, both local (musical director Farley Asuncion, choreographer Cecile Martinez,  costume designer Raven Ong, hair and make-up artist Johann dela Fuente) and imported (set designer David Gallo, lighting designer Aaron Porter and sound designer Josh Millican) to bring us into a convincing slice of southern American life. 

Tony Award-winning scenic designer David Gallo's main set piece is of course Joe's Pie Diner with its rustic old-fashioned neon-lit outdoor sign and diner interior with the cushioned seats. The center section of the diner was a rotating section that shifted the scene from the counter to the kitchen. Various set pieces would be brought in and out to bring the scene to Jenna's house, Dr. Pomatter's clinic or the bus stop. 

Honestly, as a matter of personal beliefs, the aspect about extra-marital affairs did not completely sit well to me, even when sugar-coated. The situations could be uncomfortable to watch at times (maybe on purpose) and even verged on raunchy, albeit in a comedic way. Despite the seemingly wholesome impression it can give on first impression, this sensitive subject matter of this show is not exactly for young kids.

However, it was the winsome collective performance of the delightful lead triumvirate of waitresses (Ampil, Escalante and Cruz) that won me over. Their chemistry as friends was felt more sincere than their chemistry with their respective lovers. Furthermore, hearing Jenna's fanciful descriptions of the unique combinations of ingredients for each of her pies were so mouth-watering. (Too bad they were not selling pie samples in the lobby.) So come on in for a taste, the diner is open!


"Waitress" runs from November 9 to December 2, 2018 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium 
4th Floor, RCBC Plaza, Ayala Ave., cor. Gil Puyat Ave. Makati City. Showtimes are 8pm from Fridays to Sundays, with 3pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices are from P4,000, P3,000 and P2,000.