PROVIDENCE — What fun to be in the audience Tuesday night at the Providence Performing Arts Center for the opening of “Waitress,” the uplifting, heartwarming musical featuring the gorgeous score of Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles.
The atmosphere was electric, and the crowd was appreciative, enthusiastic and quite vocal — especially when the singers soared, which they did on several occasions. Fast-paced with great dancing, gorgeous sets (the pink evening sky with telephone wires is particularly poignant) and full of terrific music (“What’s Inside,” “What Baking Can Do,” “Opening Up,” “Everything Changes,” “I Didn’t Plan it,” “You Matter to Me,” to name a few), the show is a triumph. A delightful, delicious, charming triumph. Sugar and butter.
The talented Christine Dwyer plays Jenna, the waitress and expert pie-maker at the heart of the story, and she won over the audience from the start of the show. The “queen of kindness and goodness,” who is “messy, but she’s kind,” and “lonely most of the time,” is funny and warm and a good friend to fellow waitresses Becky (Melody A. Betts is a powerhouse) and Dawn (Ephie Aardema kept surprising in a delightful way). Head chef Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin is hilarious) is a bear of a boss with a big, soft heart.
Stuck in an abusive marriage to lowlife Earl (Jeremy Woodward is an excellent bad guy), Jenna is not over-the-moon-happy when she discovers she is pregnant. Although her visits to Dr. Pomatter, the handsome obstetrician (Steven Good), provide some dreamy moments of escape, Jenna mostly fantasizes about entering a baking contest in a nearby county and making her great escape with the winnings.
Meanwhile, we watch the blossoming of Dawn’s relationship with Ogie (Jeremy Morse can move! And make us laugh!) and the kindness of diner owner Joe (Richard Kline will bring tears to your eyes).
The names of the pies (Marshmallow Mermaid Pie, Fallin’ In Love Chocolate Mousse Pie, Berry This Bull** Pie, Betrayed by my Eggs Pie, I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby Pie and A Little Wild Wild Berry Pie are just a few) are clever and silly and deserving of credit. The band on the stage is a treat and the ensemble is spot on, as is the cast.
The arrival onstage of Lulu (4-year-old Bridget Hope Whitty, who lives in Lincoln, is beyond adorable) brings down the house. The character of Lulu, Jenna’s daughter, was cast locally, with two girls chosen to share the role; Whitty and Stella Vaslet alternate performances. Such a sweet touch.
Diane Paulus, the Tony Award-winning director of recent Broadway revivals of “Pippin” and “Hair,” directs, Lorrin Latarro is the choreographer and Robert Cookman is music director.
Make a point to see “Waitress.” You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll shout out loud ... just like the happy, emotional, exuberant audience on opening night. I guarantee.