By Nickky F. P. de Guzman, Reporter
Presented by Atlantis Theaterical Entertainment Group
Until Dec. 2
Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC
Plaza, Ayala Ave. corner Gil Puyat Ave., Makati
TWO WOMEN in front of me couldn’t stop reacting to what they were watching on stage. Sometimes the other woman would slap her friend’s shoulder, out of kilig (thrill) and sometimes because of laughter. Then at one point, I saw them wiping away their tears. We were watching Atlantis Theatrical’s Waitress last Friday night.
The women’s big gestures, albeit done silently, could have been major distractions, but I found myself smiling at them because Waitress was able to elicit feelings that were relatable.
Waitress, really, has all the right ingredients to trigger one’s emotions. For this reason alone, Waitress is a stage success: it’s a musical with catchy songs (music and lyrics Sara Bareilles, book by Jessie Nelson) and it’s fun to watch, but it’s not detached from reality.
Based on an indie film from 2007, Waitress is anchored on the idea of women empowerment and the realities and difficulties that women face every day like dealing with abusive relationships and gender inequality. It tells the story of Jenna (well played by veteran actress Joanna Ampil), a pie-making genius who works at Joe’s Diner. She lives with an abusive douche bag of a husband Earl (also well played by George Schulze) who verbally mistreats her. You’ll love to hate Earl and his selfishness, especially when he makes Jenna promise that she’ll never love their baby as much as she must love him. Pregnant by accident, Jenna is learning to embrace her growing baby bump despite her anxieties and apprehensions about having a child, especially since she doesn’t love the father.
Jenna’s pies — and their names — are inspired by what is going on in her life, and songs around their creation punctuate the scenes set in Joe’s classic American South diner (the eye-catching set was designed by award-winning set designer David Gallo). It is through this creation that Jenna breaks the ennui of the everyday life. Ms. Ampil’s stellar performance as the unfortunate Jenna is totally believable — it’s as if she is Jenna and Jenna is her. The highlight of her performance was when she tearfully sang Bareilles’ “She Used to be Mine,” which is about how she misses her old self and the pain of her problems. This is when I noticed the two women in front of me silently sobbing along with the lead character on stage.
But Jenna is not alone — she is supported by her friends and fellow waitresses Dawn (Maronne Cruz) and Becky (Bituin Escalante), who have their own share of personal problems. The trio put layers to the story: Jenna is sweet and kind, Dawn is neurotic and nerdy, while Becky is outspoken and sassy. Despite their problems, all remain hopeful about their future.
Ms. Escalante embodies Becky as the typical “Big Southern Girl” with her thick accent, her big hoop earrings, high ponytail, and her strong personality. Becky is dealing with her own love life and family problems and Ms. Escalante’s solo performance of “I Didn’t Plan It” in the Act 2 reveals to the audience her character’s surprise twist.
Meanwhile, Ms. Cruz’ portrayal of Dawn as the nerdy and introvert waitress was so convincingly good. She looks and acts like she is the real-life Dawn. Her fun solo number, “When He Sees Me,” tells of her paranoia about dating and finally finding love for the first time. She has an even nerdier suitor, a magician named Ogie whom she met online (Nino Alejandro). Ogie’s laugh-out-loud number “Never Getting Rid of Me” was fun and funny. Their love team is awkwardly hilarious, but gentle and sweet nonetheless.
Jenna also has her own romantic moments — not with her abusive husband, but with her gynecologist Dr. Pomatter (played by a charming Bibo Reyes, who looks like Zac Efron and sounds like Christian Bautista, by the way). While both are cheating on their respective spouses, their romantic attraction is such that the audience had to root for their love team and wish for it to last. Their chemistry was oozing and that made the two ladies in front of me giggle among themselves. Act 1 ends with Ms. Ampil and Mr. Reyes’ duet of “Bad Idea” as they kiss and end up doing the deed.
The story ends happily. Act 2 progresses towards Jenna’s redemption: getting out of her abusive relationship, taking care of her baby, and having her own diner after Joe (Steven Conde), the owner of Joe’s Diner, gives it to her.
Dawn and Becky also find love and peace. All’s well that ends well in Waitress. Sweet.