Sara Bareilles, the Tony-nominated songwriter behind the Broadway musical Waitress, is currently “Opening Up” and serving a West End debut performance at the Adelphi Theatre that’s good enough to eat. Having already slipped into the waitress uniform of one Jenna Hunterson for three separate limited engagements over the pond, she’s certainly no stranger to acting the role.
Her performance is quietly understated and natural during the scenes of dialogue which then contrasts beautifully with her highly emotive renditions of self-penned musical numbers such as “You Matter to Me” and the show-stealing “She Used to Be Mine.” Her irresistible mezzo-soprano vocals evoke a wistful sense of vulnerability that makes her perfect casting for the role.
What a rare and unique opportunity it is to see a creator and performer combined on stage in a musical. I was fortunate enough to see Sting perform in his own musical, The Last Ship on Broadway a number of years ago, but these opportunities are few and far between. In this instance, there is (by default) an added dimension to the performance, knowing that every song came from Sara’s own creative genius. Her writing voice doesn’t need to be adapted on the stage by another performer, just conveyed by herself in the manner she always intended.
The cherry on the top of this cake is Sara’s onstage chemistry with her good friend Gavin Creel (an Olivier Award winner for originating the role of Elder Price in The Book of Mormon in the West End). Having already paired up as Jenna and Dr. Pomatter on Broadway, you’d expect nothing less than instant believability and they bounce off each other with enviable ease. Gavin’s comic timing is also on point as the slightly awkward gynecologist.
In the shortest amount of time, Sara has also forged great chemistry with most of her other London co-stars, in particular, Marisha Wallace (as Becky), Evelyn Hoskins (as Dawn), and Andrew Boyer (as Old Joe). If there was any tiny chink in her armour, it is perhaps her onstage interactions with Tamlyn Henderson as her abusive and controlling husband, Earl. At times, the sense of danger and unpredictability is slightly lacking, and therefore we’re not as invested as we perhaps could be. But then, what she conveys through song commands our full attention and empathy.
If you haven’t seen Waitressyet, now is the opportune time. Experiencing the musical with Sara Bareilles in the lead is certainly no “Bad Idea.”