Arts & Culture

Waitress Is the Play We All Need Once in a While

The musical reminds us to take some time off and indulge in something good for a change.
IMAGE ATLANTIS THEATRICAL GROUP
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Too often do critics forget the most basic reason we watch plays: to be entertained. To see a good story told well. To be wowed by what a group of immensely talented people can create when they work together.

At a time when the world seems to constantly demand deeper reflection; to require that art react to political, economic, and societal tumult; and to acknowledge the challenges of living in a society that is just starting to realize how big and messy and convoluted it is; Waitress, in its international premiere with Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group, reminds us to take some time off and indulge in something good for a change.


Bituin Escalante as Becky, Joanna Ampil as Jenna, and Maronne Cruz as Dawn

Waitress is a creature comfort.  It’s a slice of your favorite pie waiting at home for you, ready to greet you with a burst of warmth and sweetness, reminding you of the times you felt safe and secure. It’s a much-needed hug at the end of a long day.

The musical is a close adaptation of the 2007 film Waitress, with Jessie Nelson’s book lifting lines straight out of the movie. Its staunch faithfulness to the source material—a by-the-numbers romantic comedy given unique charm by pie-inspired narrative devices—mandates that the script won’t be more than the tale of a waitress who finally has her sense of ennui broken by prospect of a life-changing baking competition, but that isn’t necessarily a fault.

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When the all-too-familiar story is given vibrancy by earnest dialogue and clever, memorable music by recording artist Sara Bareilles, it becomes the sort of spectacle that defies the need for something more complex, and invites you to simply dig in and enjoy yourself.

Directed by Bobby Garcia, Waitress is the story of Jenna, a diner waitress with an almost-biblical talent for creating pies. Her friends and co-workers, the sassy Becky and the neurotic Dawn, stand by her side as she deals with an unwanted pregnancy.


Joanna Ampil brings a subtle sense of weariness to Jenna, which is apt, considering the character is being emotionally blackmailed into staying in a loveless marriage. Her stage presence is second to none, commanding your attention the moment the lights hit her face. Her vocals, as always, are on point, with the only minor nitpick in her performance being the inconsistency of her accent.

On the other hand, Bituin Escalante deserves major praise for her accent work, allowing audiences to suspend all disbelief in her performance. As Becky, Escalante embodies the “Big Southern Girl” stereotype, with a personality as bombastic as her singing voice—and an incredibly disarming smile, to boot. While her character’s arc is the least developed of the three leads, Escalante manages to make Becky a focal point of the Waitress experience, and the play would have been lesser had she not been cast for the role.

Maronne Cruz wears the character Dawn like a second skin, exhibiting every minutiae of the eccentric waitress as though the quirks were her own. Her voice—inflected with a cutesy squeak—may not have as many opportunities to hit big, show-stopping notes as the other two female leads, but it remains just as powerful, buoyed as much by sheer emotion as by her stage presence. Of the three, she brings the biggest sense of fun to her performance.

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Nino Alejandro as Ogie with Maronne Cruz as Dawn

As Jenna’s love interest, Dr. Pomatter, Bibo Reyes meshes keen comedic timing with plenty of charm, alongside a mastery of the material. He makes you laugh precisely when the script wants you to, and makes you swoon when the book demands it. His numbers with Ampil are among the most endearing in the entire play.

In contrast, Jenna’s husband, Earl, is played by George Schulze as a redneck ogre, full of bluster and overcompensation. There are moments where Schulze misses an opportunity to more fully capture the depth of Earl’s vulnerabilities—particularly in scenes where his insecurity leaks through clenched teeth—but he remains an effective foil, regardless.

The two diner mainstays, Cal and Joe—played by Dean Rosen and Steven Conde, respectively—make the most of their supporting roles, with both finding the laughs within the lines of their crotchety characters. Rosen competently toes the line between gruff and kind, snarky and sensitive; whereas Conde plays Old Joe like a grumpy grandfather whose heart is secretly welling with love.


Bibo Reyes takes the stage as Dr. Pomatter with Ampil's Jenna

Niño Alejandro might be the biggest show-stealer in the entire cast, however, as his delightfully weird Ogie brims with absolute glee. It’s clear that Alejandro is having the time of his life in the role, and it translates into some of the play’s most memorable moments. His chemistry with the equally strange Cruz is palpable, so much so that time seems to pass rather quickly whenever they share the stage.

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The cast is rounded out by a talented ensemble featuring Luigi Quesada, Gerhard Krysstopher, Luis Marcelo, Emeline Celis Guinid, Teetin Villanueva, Sarah Facuri, and Jillian Ita-as.

Of special note is the play’s silent star: the set design by Tony Award winner David Gallo, who turned the center of the diner into a rotating door of transformative set pieces, allowing for scene transitions that keep in time with the musical’s lively pace.

All these ingredients—along with the fine production work by Aaron Porter, Farley Ascuncion, Raven Ong, Josh Millican, Johann dela Fuente, and Manman Angsico—combine to make a show that is, in a word, delectable.

Waitress isn’t the sort of play that will change your life, nor is it trying to be. It is, however, the kind that makes everything feel better—just like a slice of freshly baked pie.


“Waitress” runs every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of November, until December 2, 2018 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati City. Tickets are available via www.ticketworld.com.ph, and by calling TicketWorld at (632)891-9999.

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Marco Sumayao
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