Waitress: The Musical Blu-ray Review: Small-Town Servers Accentuate the Positive

Following the conclusion of its four-year original Broadway run in early 2020, Waitress: The Musical returned to Broadway in late 2021 for a limited engagement starring the original lyricist and composer, Sara Bareilles. The extra run was intended to help out the still-reeling Broadway industry as it attempted to emerge from Covid, but also was designed to be filmed for theatrical and home-video release. After a brief theatrical run late last year, the filmed version of the musical is now available on Blu-ray.

Buy Waitress The Musical Blu-ray

Among the questionable source materials for Broadway musicals, the original Waitress comedy-drama film has to rank fairly high. The movie focused on a small-town pregnant waitress in an abusive marriage who seeks solace in the arms of her married obstetrician. It was far from a box-office smash, most notable for a star turn by Keri Russell in a lull of fame between Felicity and The Americans, and was notorious after its writer and co-star, Adrienne Shelly, was murdered before its theatrical release. So not exactly the feel-good event of the season.

Bareilles leads the musical cast as Jenna, a downtrodden waitress saddled with an abusive husband who squanders their meager resources. The show goes a bit too far in establishing the husband’s dastardly character, or lack thereof, making it challenging to watch his interactions with Jenna. She finds solace in her innovative pie creations, with each day’s diner menu featuring a new delicacy custom-designed by her. She also finds joy in the arms of her nurturing obstetrician when she regrettably becomes pregnant after her husband’s unwelcome advances. With little hope, she starts hiding some of her take-home pay and attempts to enter a pie contest with a big cash prize, dreaming of running away from her husband and her dreary life.

With such a somber setup, it’s a miracle that the show is very much a comedy, and yet the spritely songs and peppy performances contribute to an uplifting and amusing experience. Jenna and her two best friend waitresses may be stuck in dead-end jobs in a dead-end small town, but they always look for the positive and try to make the best of their situations. 

Thanks to the involvement of Bareilles in the musical’s creation, the songs lift the unsavory subject matter into a moving and spirited production that has earned its place as a modern classic. She had stepped into the starring role for two brief runs during its original Broadway engagement, marking her return for the encore production as a homecoming. It’s a real treat to have a permanent filmed record of the show’s principal creator in the lead role, and her acting and singing chops are more than up to the task.

The rest of the cast is serviceable if unremarkable, aside from Christopher Fitzgerald as the delightfully wacky boyfriend of one of the other waitresses. He’s so over the top and invested in the role of Ogie that you can’t help but root for his character’s unlikely chances of romantic success. He also originated the role in the show’s workshop and Broadway production, so he’s the real deal, accept no substitutes. Other returning originators include the doctor, Drew Gehling, and the boss at the diner, Dakin Matthews. Sadly, the Broadway originator of the abusive husband role, Nick Cordero, was a tragic casualty of Covid, but he’s replaced here by Joe Tippett, who played the role during its American Repertory Theatre tryout between its workshop and Broadway debut.

The filmed version is very much a movie production, not solely wide shots from a typical audience performance. While an audience is in attendance for many of the shots, there are a great deal of close-ups with kinetic on-stage camera work that would be far too intrusive for a show audience. Most noticeably, a real baby is used for shots near the end of the show, a luxury that certainly wasn’t utilized in Broadway performances. The camera work is super-immersive, putting viewers into the diner so well one may want to settle into a booth and order some pie.

Surprisingly, the Blu-ray offers no bonus features, so if you caught the theatrical run there’s nothing new here. Still, it’s great to be living in an age where notable musicals are being captured on film, ensuring that favorite performances can always be revisited and can be widely experienced by global audiences instead of being preserved solely in the memories of Broadway viewers.

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Steve Geise

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