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Remembering Waitress

Updated: Jan 16

Sugar... butter... flour

The global pandemic has left many casualties across the theatre world - shows that were scheduled to open in the West end have had to postpone or cancel their runs entirely, while others have had to close early. Waitress was the first major West end casualty, announcing that its performance on Saturday 14th March was unexpectedly the final time at the diner, nearly 4 months sooner than it was due to close.


This is a show that seems to have divided West end audiences. I personally cite it as one of my favourite shows, but understand the contrasting and often strong opinions the show creates in people. It also has had several "mishaps" in its run that haven't endeared it to the theatre community. Let's take a moment to remember all the highs and lows this little pie show brought.


THE CASTING

Where do I start with this one? First, let's address the Lucie Jones debacle. Posters of Lucie in Jennas waitress uniform appeared in Times Square, leading to people on both sides of the Atlantic to rightly exclaim "What the f***?". Was Lucie going to be the new Jenna on Broadway? On the West end? In a new production in Hull? Complete silence from Waitress... obviously.

Katharine McPhee then had to take a few days off from the show. David Hunter tweeted


Waitress fans put 2 and 2 together and bought tickets to the show the next day (myself included). Did Waitress announce anything? Course not!

Even when you walked in to the theatre to see "Lucie Jones" name next to Jenna on the cast board for that evening, they STILL didn't announce anything.

Even AFTER she had performed for a few days, complete silence.

Eventually they made the announcement that Lucie Jones was going to take over from Katharine McPhee - aka the worst kept secret in all of theatre. Waitress would be great to have around a few weeks after an emergency.

It showed a shocking lack of respect for Lucie Jones who deserved more than an unannounced debut, especially as she would become the longest running West end Jenna.

However, it was about to get worse!


I give to you Laura Baldwin-gate.


Waitress, being huge fans of stunt casting, essentially sacked Laura Baldwin temporarily (I guess in keeping with one of the words of 2020, she was basically furloughed) so that Ashley Roberts could step in to screech and stomp her way through the show for 3 months.

Now, I am happy to be proven wrong about stunt casting. I wasn't thrilled about Joe Sugg being cast in the show but was happy to eat humble pie when he proved to be a fantastic Ogie. However, there was no redeeming Ashley Roberts. To say her 'When he sees me' was painful would be an understatement.

More important than Ashley Roberts struggle to be one of the top 5 talented members of the Pussycat dolls was the way the show treated Laura. There seemed to be an upset with cast members and fans alike and just a general lack of respect on the producers part.

Luckily, Laura Baldwin eventually returned and the show became watchable again.


Don't get me wrong, I understand why they did it. If it wasn't for stunt casting, there is no way Waitress would have survived a year on the West end. Seeing a half empty theatre and the upper circle closed off was disheartening. It just didn't paint them in the best light.


Casting never got better throughout the run. Marisha Wallace left the run on March 7th. On Monday 9th March they still hadn't announced who was taking over the role of Becky. The actress herself, Natasha Yvette Williams, revealed on her instagram she had flown over to reprise her role from the Broadway production. Waitress themselves only confirmed it that afternoon. What a mess!


The person who was playing Jenna had a huge impact on peoples thoughts of the show. While I personally loved Katharine McPhees understated portrayal of Jenna, I know people who were really put off by her and found her performance too "cold".

Similarly, Lucie's Jenna was a real shock to the system. Much jollier than Kat ever was some people loved her take on it, others were longing for Karen Cartwrights alter ego to come back. And then there was Sara Bareilles - seeing one of the creators of the show play the songs she wrote was a fantastic experience. While she may not be the best actor in the world, nobody could channel the emotion of the songs like she did.


THE MARKETING

Lord have mercy. Deep breaths everybody.

I don't claim to be an expert in marketing but What. Were. They. Thinking?

You could forgive the massive poster of original Broadway Jenna Jessie Mueller above the Adelphi for the entire run. It was the promotion that made me cringe.

The problem with Waitress is to the outsider it feels very American and unrelatable. Pie isn't as big a deal over here as it is in the States. The posters made it seem this show was purely about pie and there was so much more to it that people didn't realise. This is why the marketing was so crucial.

The tagline to promote it on Broadway "If only life was as easy as pie" is flawless - sums up the show, gets the tone right. What did we get?

She's had enough... of this shift.

I genuinely put my head in my hands when I first saw that. If I didn't love the show already, there is nothing about that that would have made me want to see it.


Waitress also seemed content to not promote the show properly. Aside from an appearance on everybody's favourite hangover show Sunday Brunch, there really wasn't much. The live shows of Britain's Got Talent last year featured guest performances from shows such as Six and On Your Feet. If they could have just got Katharine McPhee or Lucie Jones on there singing 'She used to be mine' on there, it would have done wonders for ticket sales. Somebody even sung it on the show which resulted in the Sara Bareilles verson charting. But nope. Silence. It's almost like they didn't want the show to succeed.


Promotion got better when Sara Bareilles joined (and unexpectedly closed) the show. By that point, the show had already announced it was closing so really was too little too late. The now closed Broadway production had similar issues so the one positive is that it was very much on brand for Waitress. The show just deserved better.


THE SHOW

If you never saw the show, you were missing out. The three waitresses capture your hearts from the beginning. Who doesn't want to give Dawn a hug after pouring her heart out on 'When he sees me' or go for a drink or 20 with the Queen of sass Becky after 'I didn't plan it', especially when Marisha Wallace belts it. If you are not in the palm of Jennas hand after 'What baking can do', you know this isn't the show for you.


This was definitely a Marmite show. Some people weren't satisfied with the ending and some found Ogie's behaviour too creepy and couldn't sympathise with Jenna's infidelity. Maybe it says a lot about me but I had no problem with any of that. This was a show that could reduce me to a quivering wreck after one of the best 11 o clock numbers in musical theatre, have me rolling around in hysterics at 'Bad idea (Reprise)' (up there with 'Joseph Smith American Moses' from The Book of Mormon as the funniest number I've ever seen in a musical), and leave with the biggest smile on my face.


This show was incredibly special to me and many others. It wasn't without its faults but it will be missed. As long as theatres are able to reopen, Waitress is due to go on a UK tour later this year. Hopefully it gets the appreciation it truly deserves. It's legacy seems to be that more people are now baking pies in isolation. I'll let you know if Jennas Betrayed by my eggs pie is as tasty as it sounds.


R.I.P Waitress West End. Thanks for taking me to the moon.

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