Movie review: 'Waitress: The Musical' showcases Sara Bareilles' lovable performance

Sara Bareilles stars in "Waitress: The Musical." Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street
1 of 5 | Sara Bareilles stars in "Waitress: The Musical." Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Sara Bareilles wrote the music for a 2015 stage adaptation of the 2007 movie Waitress. In Waitress: The Musical, in movie theaters Thursday, she plays the lead role.

Jenna (Bareilles) is a waitress and piemaker at Joe's Diner. When she inadvertently gets pregnant with her husband, Earl (Joe Tippett), it reinforces to Jenna that she's not happy in her marriage.


At the same time, Jenna also gets a new doctor, Jim Pomatter (Drew Gehling), with whom she falls in love. Jenna's co-workers Dawn (Caitlin Houlahan) and Becky (Charity Dawson) also get romantic subplots.

Most of the songs Bareilles wrote are upbeat, which matches the tone of the original Adrienne Shelly movie starring Keri Russell. When the music slows down for ballads, they are emotional and powerful.

The filmed version of Waitress: The Musical can offer closeups far more intimate than even a front row seat. Overhead shots highlight how the chorus and stagehands gracefully move props around the set and bring Jenna ingredients for baking scenes.

The stage lights go blue when Jenna imagines scenes. And if those pies are just fake props, they still look appetizing.


Like the films, the stage show doesn't make excuses for the adultery. Yet, it has empathy for people finding supportive companions, even if the circumstances are not ideal.

Jenna and Dr. Pomatter share charming banter and food-based sexual innuendo. Gehling does some impeccable physical comedy, too.

Likewise, shy Dawn's romance is endearing. Married Becky's affair also highlights the complications of grown-up relationships. Her husband can be violent. That is scary even in brief blowups.

Background dancers fill the stage with activity, if not choreography as acrobatic as a show like Newsies. But Waitress is a mellow show; it's not about aggressive dancing.

In the popular phenomenon of Broadway adapting films as musicals, Waitress is faithful yet finds a musical voice that suits the material. Like other filmed stage performances, Waitress: The Musical captures the energy previously only experienced by theatergoers in person.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.


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