The Waitress Musical annoyed me on several levels. I'll state my beef in a bit, but first a brief overview of the story:
Jenna is a waitress and pie maker in a small town in the American South. She has an unhappy and abusive marriage. Her husband constantly belittles and manipulates her, even while (eventually) completely depending on her to support their "family." He's probably physically abusive too, but this is mostly implied and not actually spelled out in the musical.
Jenna discovers that she is unintentionally pregnant. She doesn't consider ending the pregnancy, but she's not happy about it, which she makes clear on her first visit to the OBGYN. After a chance encounter with her OBGYN, she begins an affair with him. Jenna is torn by her affair, and while she considers ending it several times, ultimately she continues the affair throughout her pregnancy.
Meanwhile, Jenna also decides that she wants out of her marriage, but envisions herself running far away from her town, and she needs money to do that. As luck would have it, there is a pie contest in a nearby town and Jenna is a very good pie maker. She decides that she is going to enter the pie contest and if she wins, she'll leave her husband.
Unfortunately, due to various circumstances--including going into labor--Jenna never makes it to the pie contest. Instead, while she's at the hospital having her baby, the owner of the diner she works at hands Jenna a card and instructs her not to open it until after the baby comes. Later, we learn the the diner owner has died during surgery.
After the arrival of Jenna's baby, Lulu, Jenna finds the courage to tell her husband that she wants a divorce and that he needs to leave. Her lover-doctor is there to help ensure that ex-hubby leaves. Also present at the hospital is the lover-doctor's wife, who is a resident training at the hospital. Sensing the love and trust that his wife has for him, Jenna concludes that they really should end the affair "before anyone gets hurt."
She thanks lover-doctor for "taking her to the moon" and as well as "teaching" her so much. He leaves and Jenna finally opens the card that her former boss had given her. Inside is a card telling her that he has left the diner to her in his will. Jenna renames the diner "Lulu's Pies" and supposedly things are just dandy after that.
Okay, here's my main beef. This is arguably the story of a woman who jumps from one abusive relationship into another. No, her doctor-lover doesn't physically coerce her or mentally shame her. But he's an authority figure who has taken advantage of a woman at an emotionally vulnerable time in her life. Jenna herself is conflicted. And yes, she's a grown woman who can make her own decisions and be held accountable for them. You can't blame the doctor for the entire situation. But even as Jenna distances herself multiple times, doctor-lover pursues her and shows up at her work. It drove me crazy that this was portrayed as loving concern rather than slightly creepy self-interested manipulation. The doctor's behavior is simply a betrayal of the trust we generally put in medical professionals who will often be interacting with the emotionally vulnerable.
Now, in real life, it is unfortunately common for mistreated romantic partners to jump into other unhealthy relationships. I could almost swallow this story if it were an unfiltered look at humanity; Jenna as the abused spouse who falls into another unhealthy relationship, Dr. Pometter as a human being with a human being's weaknesses and vulnerabilities. But no, This relationship is portrayed as somehow healthy and mutually beneficial. A great learning experience or something.
A couple of other minor beefs I had with the show:
The relationship between Jenna and doctor is very poorly motivated. There's so little that actually builds up to the affair. It just seemed so implausible.
Also, why is it okay for the doctor's wife to know nothing about the affair? Does he deserve his wife's "obvious trust" that Jenna sites as her reason for finally terminating the affair? In a show supposedly about female empowerment, keeping the wife in the dark is just dumb. And stating that they're ending the affair BEFORE it becomes "messy" and "hurts" anyone, completely dismisses the value of the wife's trust in her husband and implies that as long as she doesn't know, it won't hurt her. In reality, she's in a relationship where there are clearly some issues that need to be addressed, and keeping her in the dark is demeaning.
Also, I found it ironic that in a show about empowering women, Jenna was ultimately saved from financial ruin by a man. I mean, honestly I liked the crusty, grumpy "Joe" character. But wouldn't it have been nice for Jenna to actually go to the pie contest and prove to herself that she can put herself out there AND succeed? Instead, she never makes it to the contest and then Joe gifts her the diner. I definitely had mixed feelings about that.
So is the show worth watching? That depends. The cast I saw was talented and entertaining. The staging was well done and everything looked great and moved at a nice pace. If you want to study all those elements, then by all means, go for it. It's a good example of that.
But the music was just okay. I don't mind Sara Bareillis' songs, but most of the music is unmemorable and very similar. Sort of a flowy-pop style with a few belty B sections for good measure. A couple of power ballad-esque songs. But I wouldn't expect you to leave the theater humming any tunes. The few exceptions were the nerdy character Oggie's songs. His songs were very different in feeling from the rest. I also liked Jenna's "Everything has changed" and the recurring "Sugar, butter..." theme.
In the end however, I was disappointed by this musical. While I found myself happy for Jenna's character--she left an abusive relationship, found meaning in motherhood, and became a successful business owner, I ultimately concluded that the journey the musical took to get her there was unrealistic and unhealthy.