REVIEW: Upper crust: ‘Waitress’ serves up a slice of fun at the Buell — 4/5 stars


AURORA | Life is complicated. So is the musical, “Waitress.”

In an entertainment world where the only singing and dancing adaptation yet to grace Broadway would be “Musical, The Musical,” “Waitress,” finds a bevy of ways to set itself apart from shows based on something familiar and boasting about 15 or so loud and catchy songs.

Adapted from the 2007 dark-lark movie by the same name, the 2016 Broadway show began touring in October, landing at Denver’s Buell theater this week.

Looking back from curtain call, there’s plenty for the cast to sing about. A woman trapped in an abusive marriage somewhere in the South, unhappy working at a diner, finds a way out of her dismal troubles. In the end, “uplifting” powers this show like it has every musical for the past few generations. It’s the very personal darkness that Jenna, played by Desi Oakley, and those close to her, that shows how complicated life really is, and how dubious victory can be.

Jenna, downtrodden by her cretin husband, Earl, played by Nick Bailey, finds quasi-happiness after becoming unexpectedly and unwantedly pregnant and having a torrid sexual affair with her married gynecologist.


The story revolves around Jenna’s dual-role as the early-morning chief pie baker for Joe’s Pie Diner and then server during lunch.

The play mixes metaphors and emotions just like Jenna does ingredients for her odd and aptly named daily pies.

But with a stellar score and songbook by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles — who rocketed to fame with her single “Love Song” — a stunning set design by Scott Pask, and a flawless cast, this complicated recipe turns out one of the most delicious shows in years.

The show keeps from buckling under its own unsavory gloom by dancing around domestic violence, loneliness, adultery, loveless marriages and unwanted pregnancy. Funny stuff? In the expert hands of book-writer Jessie Nelson, who based the show on the winning movie written and created by Adrienne Shelly, it works.

Oakley dominates the show with a confidence and finesse that distracts from “wait-a-minute” instincts from the audience. Her supporting foils, Dawn, played by Lenne Klingaman, a Colorado star, and Becky, played by Charity Angel Dawson, are stage-presence heavyweights themselves, delivering their own one-two-punch.

But Jeremy Morse, who reprises his Broadway role as Ogie, a neurotically nerdy and energetic beau to Dawn, stops, steals and runs off with the show with just one number: “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me.” Yes, even stalking is rhythmically hilarious in this musical.

With so many wild flavors and huge bites of almost bitter-saccharine goodness and darkness, the underlying message of empowerment comes as an aftertaste.

It’s an ugly world out there. People are trapped and trap themselves in endless miseries. But even a small-town woman who lives under the thumb of a brutal cad can get past an affair with her married doctor in his office and have her unwanted pregnancy give birth to a new life that leads to one of her own.

“Waitress” is a quirky but sumptuous buffet of emotions that will have you wanting to go back for seconds.

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• Through Dec. 31 at the Buell Theatre in Downtown Denver
• Tickets start at $25 at 
• Age Recommendation: 13+ for mature themes