Waitress the Musical at Royal & Derngate

Holding a Waitress programme at Royal & Derngate

Sugar, butter, flour… and a lot of comedy, emotion and thought-provoking music!

The Broadway smash-hit musical Waitress has finally come to Northampton’s Royal & Derngate! I for one couldn’t be more pleased, as this has been high on my “theatre show must-watch” bucket list. 

Prior to seeing it, I have tried my best not to dive too deeply into the soundtrack and its plotline – I like the intrigue and being open-minded over what to expect. 

For those who are in the dark over the plotline, the original concept is based on the 2007 indie film of the same title and follows expert pie-maker and waitress, Jenna, who dreams of some happiness and a better life away from her lousy husband, Earl. 

But life gets complicated when a hot new doctor arrives in town along with a different kind of pie in the oven! With the help of her workmates, Becky and Dawn, Jenna overcomes the challenges she faces and finds that laughter, love and friendship can provide the perfect recipe for happiness. 

I had high hopes for this storyline and show, due to the fact it’s been brought to life by a groundbreaking, female-led creative team, including a musical score written and composed by Sara Bareilles whose music I adore. 

But let’s talk about its opening night in Northampton…

Chelsea Halfpenny as Jenna in Waitress
Chelsea Halfpenny as Jenna in Waitress

First impressions walking into the Derngate auditorium, the curtain was a vision of a vibrant pie crust with red berry filling – very fitting and made me hungry.

The set design was complex but moved swiftly between the different locations, from Joe’s Diner, Jenna and Earl’s house, to the stunning backdrops of the American South and into Dr Pomatter’s office. 

I love shows where choreography isn’t the main focus; it was very contemporary, simple but powerful – it doesn’t distract from the action happening with the characters, but it’s enough to bring the whole stage to life – like a strawberry swirl in a pie! 

This particular performance had a few casting changes, including Chelsea Halfpenny, who was due to play the role of Jenna for the first time on the tour  – I hope she gets to have the opportunity to perform during the run!

However, we were in the very capable and extremely talented hands of understudy Aimée Fisher. I had the impression it was a last-minute decision to bring her on for opening night, but despite this, Fisher performed the role of Jenna with so much heart, as if it would be her last night on stage – I felt extremely comfortable watching her all night. 

The most pivotal and well-known song in musical theatre history has to be “She Used To Be Mine”. As an ex-musical theatre student, I’ve heard many versions over the years, so I couldn’t help but hope that Fisher would deliver this…

She didn’t just deliver. She smashed it. She tore my heart to pieces with her rendition of this heart-breaking song and I burst into tears over her vulnerable, yet powerful performance. I will forever remember this as one of the best musical performances I’ve ever seen. 

A true triple threat. Well done, Aimée!

The way the lighting effects and the ensemble worked together to portray Jenna’s inner thoughts when she’s constructing her next pie/thinking out loud, was very clever – we saw the inside of her mind in a very simplistic but clever way. 

Sandra Marvin, Chelsea Halfpenny and Evelyn Hoskins as Becky, Jenna and Dawn.

Sandra Marvin and Evelyn Hoskins were like yin and yang in the show – totally opposite characteristics, but they go together so well! Marvin as Becky had me in stitches with her impeccable comedic timing, one-liners and she really was the comedy relief of the show – not to mention those pipes when she sang “I Didn’t Plan It”. 

Hoskins portrayed Dawn with such adorableness! You see her journey from a shy geek to a very fulfilled and happy geek  – Hoskins has previously performed this role before in the West End, so I knew she would be brilliant.

Other highlights include George Crawford, who played equally geeky and eccentric Ogie – what a cutie! From feeling sorry for him to totally loving him – a great actor and loved his rendition of “Never Ever Getting Rid Of Me”. 

Michael Starke made me weep with his touching version of “Take It From An Old Man” – it was such a touching moment that I feel everyone could relate to – Starke managed to give the character light and shade and he was a great supporting cast member.

You bet my 12 year old self had a little fan-girl moment when I saw Busted’s Matt Willis on stage who played the geeky, flustered but extremely hot Dr. Pomatter. Willis’ isn’t a stranger to the stage from his previous theatre credits, but this was a total surprise to me. 

The unlikely love interest to Jenna, nervous, glitchy and always saying the wrong things, yet an absolute hottie with a heart! Willis’ proves in this role that he’s diverse and he’s still got it vocally.

The score was incredible and even my mum said “one of the best musical soundtracks I’ve heard live” – so that’s a good review in itself! 

Sandra Marvin as Becky
George Crawford as Ogie

Some would say the ending is sad; I think the opposite. As it’s a female-led creative show, I can totally relate and see why they went in that direction. It proves that women can do anything as long as they have friendships and they’re in control of their own destiny. 

This show is like a perfectly constructed pie – it’s good feel and has a mix of everything to keep the audience laughing, tapping along and feeling emotional. 

I’d see Waitress again in a heartbeat, whether in Northampton, another tour location or if it ever comes back to the West End! Treat yourself to this 5 star musical in Northampton this week before it goes on Saturday 15th January. 


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