Jan. 25 2018 09:43 AM

National Broadway tour brings powerful message



In a season of women’s movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, and following last weekend’s women’s marches at sites like the Lansing Capitol, the arrival of “Waitress” to East Lansing seems just right for the times.

The Broadway touring company production of the 2016 Tony Award nominated play is inspirational. Its story, based on the book by Jessie Nelson, about a struggling mom is full of ache, but mostly joy empowerment and fun.

The fierce acting and strong voice of the central character, Jenna Hunterson, played by Desi Oakley, helps make “Waitress” powerful. As a stifled pie maker finding her inner strength, Oakley projects a mighty voice that can part the hairdo of those sitting in the farthest seats.

The songs by Sara Bareilles are stirring. The five-time Grammy Award-nominated singer/songwriter crafted the songs for the play. Her songs and lyrics fully engage the audience.

A flexible and exquisite prop-laden set with movable parts flows from “Joe’s Pie Diner,” to a home interior, to a gynecologist office and a hospital. Even the talented band slides in and off the set, with musicians sometimes appearing at random spots onstage.

As stylish as the set pieces are, the personalities and voices of the majority female cast commands attention, no matter the colorful backdrops.

Charity Angel Dawson as Becky, has a gospel choir singing strength and likable character presence that demands attention. Lenne Klingaman, as nerdy co-worker Dawn, is a diminutive actress with a colossal voice. With how long Oakley, Dawson and Klingaman are able to hold notes, it is easy to imagine them scuba diving without air tanks.

Bryan Fenkart’s quirky Dr. Pomatter delivers notes so high, maybe only dog pilots can hear all of them. That’s not to say that the sound inside the Wharton Center is anything but clear. Lyrics are understandable and the live band sounds crisp while the bass booms.

Even minor characters, like Larry Marshall’s Joe, have significance and personality. But it is the pint-sized Jeremy Morse as Ogie that regularly steals the scene. Morse’s geeky image includes hilarious dance moves and energetic mannerisms.

Loren Lataro’s choreography is minimal but precise in its unanimity and interactions.

The adult-language “Waitress” is full of sexual innuendos and blatant sexuality. Diane Paulus’ direction keeps the spice of the fast-moving action moving along with perfect pacing.

After Tuesday night’s two-hour and 45 minute show ended, I saw women with locked arms or in closely joined groups strolling to their cars. Despite the chilly air that greeted them, everyone I saw had a warm smile, often with expressions like those I saw at the Capitol rally Sunday.