‘Waitress’ is a heart-warming show that even people who hate musicals will enjoy

Bituin Escalante, Joanna Ampil, and Maronne Cruz in Waitress. Photo: Atlantis
Bituin Escalante, Joanna Ampil, and Maronne Cruz in Waitress. Photo: Atlantis

I almost slept through The Lion King; I wanted to walk out of an Australian production of The Phantom of the Opera because I was bored and hungry; and I was thinking of work when I watched Les Miserables.

So, yeah, I’m pretty sure that musicals aren’t really my thing.

But, I guess I’m also a bit of a masochist, because I went to see a local production of the Broadway musical Waitress. This time, though, not only did I enjoy it — I felt genuinely moved.

Bituin Escalante, Joanna Ampil, and Maronne Cruz in Waitress. Photo: Atlantis
Bituin Escalante, Joanna Ampil, and Maronne Cruz in Waitress. Photo: Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group

It certainly helps that its music and lyrics were written by Sara Bareilles, but much of its charm rests on the talent of its excellent cast, led by West End actress Joanna Ampil, theater veteran and pop singer Bituin Escalante, and young actress Maronne Cruz.

Their charming performances left many in the audience impressed — there was rousing applause and a standing ovation when the show ended.

Relative to other musicals, the world of Waitress seems nothing out of the ordinary. Here, Jenna Hunterson (Ampil) works as a waitress and pie baker at a diner in the American South. Her dead-end job would have been unbearable if not for her friends and colleagues, the sassy Becky (Escalante) and shy Dawn (Cruz).

However, her life takes a turn for the worse when she learns that her abusive deadbeat husband Earl (George Schulze) has gotten her pregnant.

She decides to continue with the pregnancy grudgingly but keeps it a secret from her boss, the cantankerous Cal (Dean Rosen). But perhaps all is not lost — a pie-baking contest will offer a huge cash prize, enough for her to start her life and leave Earl.

And her love life just might pick up — her gynecologist Dr. Pomatter (Bibo Reyes) seems to have a crush on her — it’s just too bad he’s married. But perhaps he’ll leave his wife behind? Don’t worry, we won’t drop any spoilers here.

Bibo and Ampil. Photo: Atlantis Entertainment Group.
Bibo Reyes and Ampil. Photo: Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group

I’m not familiar with the musical’s songs but it was easy to fall in love with them thanks to the actors’ standout performances. One of my favorites is Never Ever Getting Rid of Me, the song that Dawn’s ardent suitor Ogie (Nino Alejandro) sings to convince her to give love a shot.

Alejandro’s performance causes the song to come across as a cute and sincere plea, and not crazy stalkerish (although his character could sometimes be mistaken as such).

Nino Alejandro and Cruz. Photo: Atlantis Entertainment Theatrical Group
Nino Alejandro and Cruz. Photo: Atlantis Entertainment Theatrical Group

Another standout is You Matter to Me, the sort-of-love song which Pomatter and Jenna sing to each other. “Sort-of” because they never actually say “I Love You” in the song (or in the play) but thanks to Ampil and Reyes, the characters’ sincere affections shine through.

But the crowd favorite was clearly Escalante’s show-stopping performance of I Didn’t Plan It. Her powerful voice made me understand why Escalante is known as one of the most underrated singers in the country today. In my opinion, her performance trumps Keala Settle’s, who performed it on the Broadway production of Waitress.

Escalante’s drawl isn’t bad either — you’d think that she was a real Southern belle. 

The cast of Waitress
The cast of Waitress. Photo: Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group

Kudos also goes to set designer David Gallo, who has previously worked for the children’s show Sesame Street (yup, that show).

According to a statement released by Atlantis Theatrical, the group behind this staging, Gallo was inspired by the designs of actual diners in the American South, as well as the set of the show Pushing Daisies.

Thanks to his vision, the audience sees a cheerful-looking diner that efficiently transforms into a kitchen, a ladies’ room, a hospital, and even a bus stop. The transitions from one place to another were flawless.

The entire production was fantastic and it was so enjoyable that I didn’t notice that two hours had already passed by.

The story shows the complexities people face in their romantic relationships. Its non-judgmental tone was refreshing, especially at a time when voices on social media so often sound overly righteous.

Waitress will run until Dec. 2 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Ayala Ave., cor. Gil Puyat Ave., in Makati City.

Tickets are available from PHP2,000 (US$37.62) and can be purchased from Ticket World.

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