November 18, 2018 – Carla Delgado
Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group is once again staging a fantastic musical at this time of the year. The theatre company that previously staged Fun Home, Kinky Boots, Matilda, and Side Show is now bringing Waitress to Manila! Waitress has gained praise in Broadway for being the first to have an all-female creative team. This staging is certainly one for the books as this marks the international premiere of the musical.
Some might think they would not be interested in the musical as it appears to be about baking of sorts, but it has themes that would make any audience appreciate the show. People may even find themselves relating to one of the characters, or singing one of the songs. Similar to how sugar, butter, and flour are all needed to create the perfect pie, Waitress also has all the ingredients to create the perfect show.
The musical Waitress is actually based on the 2007 film by Adrienne Shelly. It tells the story of a waitress named Jenna who falls pregnant after a drunken night with her husband. With the support of her friends, Becky and Dawn, Jenna chases after a dream. She decides to enter an upcoming pie contest that will grant her enough money to start a new life for her and her unborn child. Her life then takes an unexpected turn when she meets her new gynecologist.
Waitress stirs quite a discussion when it comes to relationships. Beyond the humor, it discussed the complexities of love and the attachment we form with other people, but, the story did not solely focus on the romantic aspect. It also showed the audience the importance of friendship – having friends to lean on in times of trouble but also relying on them to call you out on your shortcomings. It also covered what a woman goes through in a loveless, abusive marriage and how a new mother dealt with different factors as she goes through motherhood. Most importantly, it is about finding your self-worth.
What makes it relatable is that you will feel like you actually know the characters. This is why the story would appear familiar – because you actually know people in reality who are like them. This also applies to the main character, Jenna, who feels trapped in her marriage without much options to choose from. Here in the Philippines, a woman cannot even consider divorce as we do not have that alternative. It might be set in the American south, but the heart of the story will resonate with the Filipino audience.
Leading Waitress as the expert pie baker Jenna Hunterson is award-winning theatre actress Joanna Ampil, who has recently just concluded her international tour with Cats the Musical as Grizabella. Alongside her is the sassy waitress Becky played by Bituin Escalante, and their quirky and loveable friend Dawn played by Maronne Cruz.
Aside from the waitresses, Joe’s Pie Diner would not be complete without Dean Rosen as Cal, their boss, and Steven Conde as Joe, the owner of the diner. They also have Bibo Reyes as Dr. Jim Pomatter, Jenna’s gynecologist, George Schulze as Earl, Jenna’s husband, and Nino Alejandro as Ogie, Dawn’s suitor.
The musical also has a strong ensemble composed of Sarah Facuri, Emeline Celis Guinid, Jillian Ita-as, Luis Marcelo, Gerhard Pagunsan, Luigi Quesada, and Teetin Villanueva.
With music and lyrics written by Grammy winner and Tony-nominated songwriter Sara Bareilles, the songs will surely stick with the audience even after leaving the theatre. There’s When He Sees Me sung by Maronne Cruz, who most people can relate to when it comes to the uncertainty of what new relationships may bring. The audience also thoroughly enjoyed You Matter to Me, a loving duet between Bibo Reyes and Joanna Ampil.
One of the songs that gained the loudest applause from the audience is Bituin Escalante’s raw and honest singing of I Didn’t Plan It. Ampil’s emotional performance of She Used to Be Mine also really got through with the audience, with faint crying and sniffles during the song and a loud applause at the end.
The set by David Gallo showed the wonderful Joe’s Pie Diner and even had really good transitions from one place to another with the ladies’ restroom, bus stop, hospital, and kitchen. Aaron Porter’s lighting design set the mood of the scene, especially when it comes to setting apart Jenna’s inner thoughts from reality. The sounds and the music also helped the audience fully immerse into the world of the musical, with Sound Design by Josh Millican and Musical Direction by Farley Asuncion.
The choreography by Cecile Martinez worked very well, making good use of the props along with the actors’ movement. The Costume Design by Raven Ong and Hair and Make-up Design by Johann dela Fuente really completes the actors’ characters as they are set in the American south (to which the actors had a really believable Southern accent). The creative team would not be complete without director Bobby Garcia, who did a splendid job in telling the story and getting it through to the audience.
Let there be pie! Don’t miss the chance to catch the musical’s international premiere. Waitress runs until December 2 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium in RCBC Plaza, Makati.