After taking both Broadway and the West End by storm, Waitress is now on tour and being treated with much excitement and, if a last night is anything to go by, selling out theatres. Theatre Royal Brighton on the hottest night of the year was sizzling in every sense, but mainly because this touring production is red hot!

Waitress has music and lyrics by American singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles and a book by Jessie Nelson based on the film of the same name by Adrienne Shelly.. This team, including choreographer Lorin Latarro and multi-Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus, Theatre Royal Plymouth, UK ,2022, Credit: Johan Persson

The story is decent enough, nothing earth shattering, but it is the way it is delivered that makes this work, it comes with both heart and humour… and beyond that it comes with a startlingly good cast, from the chorus up everyone delivers this tale with talent and with conviction.

The principal roles are so well cast, Wendy Mae Brown’s Becky is full of sass and she has a voice that hardly needed any electronic assistance. Evelyn Hoskins as Dawn was perfectly cookie and cute and Tamlyn Henderson brought the much needed sense of threat to what might otherwise have been perhaps too saccharine a show. Christopher Hunt’s Cal was delightfully brash and Michael Starke’s southern fried Joe had real heart, and he delivered one of the most touching numbers of a show packed with great songs. Hats off to the comedy turn of an evening not short of comedy as George Crawford brings physicality to the role of dorky Ogie, the best dance number of the evening.

Dr Pomatter comes beautifully to life in the hands and throat of the utterly charming David Hunter whose comedic talents were used to great effect whilst at the same time being believable as the romantic lead in this story of a marriage gone wrong and female oppression, the latter being an element of the story that is somewhat underplayed.

But at the heart of this all American confection, it is after all woven around pies, is the character of Jenna, trapped in a marriage to the arrogant waste of space and oxygen Earl. Jenna is played by an actor probably best known for her roles in Byker grove, Casualty and Emmerdale.

So many touring productions of West End hits set out with casts that producers might be swayed into thinking will put bums on seats, and to that end we are often confronted by stars from what are these days referred to as “ongoing dramas”. Many of them can act well and sing a little, and sometimes we are confronted by singers who can sing well and act a little.

Well hold your breath for Chelsea Halfpenny who can not only act with great skill but can sing way way better than your average pop crooner. She has a voice, a great voice and handles the zippy comedy numbers brilliantly but really pulls off those heartfelt ballads that have perhaps brought most attention to this show. And she does this because she really can act and she acts those songs rather then simply belting them out. This is a performance of real star quality and one that surely will take her into playing leading West End roles in the future.

On a minor and less positive note, at times the sound quality was less than clear and some of the well crafted lyrics lost to volume, and whoever was in charge of the follow spot left Chelsea in the dark from time to time, minor quibbles I know but ones that can spoil what is otherwise a pretty flawless production.

Andrew Kay

Theatre Royal Brighton

11 July

Rating: ★★★★★

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