Kookiness can be a ploy to cover up a flimsy story. As the old proverb goes, empty vessels make the most noise.
But the interesting thing about this super-kooky hit musical from Broadway is that I found myself taking it increasingly seriously. By the end of the two-and-a-half-hour kook-fest I was kinda smitten.
Young pregnant waitress Jenna is trapped in an abusive marriage. She copes by cooking off-the-wall pies and giving them wacky names, such as Betrayed By My Eggs Pie. But then she meets a dishy gynaecologist and, spurred on by a pie-making contest, sees a way out.
The 2007 film on which it is based was written, co-starred in and directed by Adrienne Shelly, who was murdered at the age of 40 just before it was released. The way it has since blossomed into a musical is a fitting testament to her.
The musical Waitress oozes confidence and is full of colour and heart
The joy of the show is mostly in Jenna’s two hearty waitress friends at the diner where she works. Becky (played with Tina Turner-ish swagger by Marisha Wallace) has a severely disabled husband at home and is having an affair with the diner’s owner.
The other, Dawn (tiny, Laura Baldwin), is a shy sparrow whose hobby is re-enacting battles from the American War of Independence. The latter catches the eye of Ogie (Jack McBrayer) — a goofy tax auditor and amateur magician. David Hunter as the gauche gynaecologist is also huge fun, pulling a kama sutra of moves in his surgery.
As gutsy and sassy (but vulnerable) Jenna, Katharine McPhee chirrups sweetly through her recipes, and reduces the audience to silence with her big-money torch song She Used To Be Mine.
It’s a relatively straight role, but it lets the others keep it kooky.
Diane Paulus’s production oozes confidence and all seems set up for a corny finale. But even if you can predict its ‘I will survive’ message, it is still rooted in something deeper. Adrienne Shelly would surely be delighted.
Escaping from your beige life into a better, brighter one also consumes Frances in Alys, Always. But what she cooks up in order to do so is far more sinister.
Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt shines as Frances in Alys, Always
Frances (Downton’s Joanne Froggatt) is a devious opportunist masquerading as a harmless nobody working on the books section of a Sunday paper.
Her fortunes change when she chances on a car crash and shares the dying moments of a woman who turns out to be married to bestselling novelist Laurence Kyte (Robert Glenister). Invited to his home, she insinuates herself into the Kyte high life, flitting between London and Suffolk.
Froggatt is quick to befriend Leah Gayer as the ditzy, pot-smoking student daughter so she can get her talons into the big game of Glenister’s novelist.
At work she uses her new connections to get to the top, and there is some nicely acerbic office banter in Lucinda Coxon’s shrewdly efficient stage adaptation of Harriet Lane’s novel.
My favourite is how hot-desking at work is ‘like The Hunger Games with Post-it Notes’.
In the end, what makes the show enjoyable is not so much how it exposes the foibles of the rich, so much as the guilty pleasure it takes in their way of life.