The four-time Tony nominated musical “Waitress” follows the tumultuous and tragic marriage of Jenna and Earl and her extreme talent for … pies? Based on the 2007 film by Adrianne Shelly, Jenna yearns to “bake herself a new life” after finding out she is pregnant. But Jenna has her friends and fellow waitresses Dawn and Becky with her almost every step of the way, through awkward gynecologist lovers and pain in the ass bosses. The music in” Waitress,” the hit Broadway musical featuring the songs of Sara Bareilles, staged last week at the Fox Theatre, truly guides the storyline farther than words ever could, if you listen closely enough. These are the top four songs you should listen to from “Waitress.”
In the opening scene, the song “What’s Inside” is presented and at first listen it seems to only be about the opening of a shop, but at a second listen, it is evident that “What’s Inside” is about the secrets Jenna cannot express through words in the play.
Everyone wants to know what’s inside
And I always tell them
But I feel more than words can say
You wanna know what’s inside?
Simple question, so then what’s the answer?
My whole life is in here
In this kitchen baking
What a mess I’m making” — “What’s inside”
These lines put a whole new meaning behind “putting your heart into your work.” There are moments in the musical where Jenna will pause and time will freeze and she makes a pie to process what she is feeling into ways only she can truly understand.
“What Baking Can Do,” is a very special and important number in the show. This song can be broken into three parts; Passion, Mother, History.
Jenna’s passion is clearly baking pies, something she got from her mother at a young age. She elaborates on this in “A Soft Place To Land” when she sing: “Sometimes I still see her, my mother, the dreamer.” In the visual, it is unpacked that her mother went through the same thing that Jenna is currently enduring with her husband, Earl — an abusive relationship. Jenna’s mother hid her away from a great deal of this by keeping her busy in the kitchen and baking pies with her, hence how she uses creating new pies as a distraction or vice for dealing with all the super tough issues she must face throughout the course of the musical.
Now as important as “What Baking Can Do” is to the plot, it was not the original track to be used in the musical. The song, chosen before on the 2015 Sara Bareilles album was “Door Number 3.” It gives a brief, unofficial, inquiry into her relationship with Earl, which we all know is on the rocks, and how she needs a way out, a “third door,” to escape and give her baby a better life and not repeat the same patterns as her mother so her daughter doesn’t either. So as great of song “Door Number 3” is, it doesn’t capture the essence that “What Baking Can Do” brings in a minimum of three minutes.
To delve deeper into Jenna and Earl’s difficult relationship, the song “You Will Still Be Mine” is sung by both characters after Jenna tells Earl she is pregnant to avoid being hit by her drunken husband. He becomes gleeful but then worried that she could love her child more than him. In the song, he brings up their old days, still mainly only focusing on him:
“Remember my clean shape
Back in our old days
When we were just kids
I had my six string
And you had your own thing
Though I don’t remember what it is…” — You Will Still Be Mine
As the song further continues, he goes on about the songs he used to write her as if to manipulate her into staying and by reminding her of the line: “These are ties that bind (sing it honey), ‘Till the sun don’t shine/You will still be mine…Mine.”
After that final line, he carries her off, which I believe is an allusion to the line in “Door Number 3”: “He lifts me but never once carried,” meaning he has never supported her emotionally or carried the weight of her problems. This is also evident in the above lyrics from “You Will Always Be Mine” where he doesn’t acknowledge knowing what it is that she used to do, only focusing on himself.
The main affair, the immediate attraction, the pairing we’ve been expecting from the beginning is Jenna and Pomatter, Jenna’s awkward, polite, and affectionate gynecologist. They meet in the doctor’s office when Jenna is holding a marshmallow mermaid pie waiting for her original gynecologist and then again at the bus station in “It Only Takes A Taste” where Pomatter is complimenting her pies and her.
Before the song “Bad Idea” when Jenna is realizing her feelings for Dr. Pomatter, Jenna makes a pie for Dawn, a chocolate creme pie, but changed the ingredients slightly, from bitter chocolate, which I think is symbolic for Earl to a sweet, milk chocolate, symbolic for Dr.Pomatter, foreshadowing what we know is to come in “Bad Idea” and “You Matter To Me,” a song sung by Pomatter to Jenna soon before she goes into labor. In “You Matter To Me,” Jenna sings a response that shows she is not used to binge cared for or listened to. She realizes that it’s nice to have someone in her corner, loving her and that not every sign of emotion requires a mad dash for the nearest exit.
“It’s addictive the minute you let yourself think
The things that I say just might matter to someone
All of this time I’ve been keeping my mind on the running away
And for the first time I think I’d consider the stay” — “You Matter to Me”
“She Used To Be Mine, “the most well-known song from this production, the first single from the 2015 album, is sung by Jenna after her husband Earl finds the money she has been hiding to enter into a pie baking contest. “She Used to Be Mine” is Jenna singing to herself and her unborn baby, how her life has taken turns she never expected. But now she must be strong for her child and herself if she ever wants to more than the shell she feels she has become working day in and day out, and being in a taxing, abusive relationship. There are lyrics in “Bad Idea” that are suggestive and are answered in “She Used To Be Mine.”
“What if I never see myself ever be anything more
Than what I’ve already become?” — “Bad Idea”
“It’s not easy to know
I’m not anything like I used to be” — “She Used To Mine”
Jenna is seeing, and so is the audience, a significant change herself — that everything she has been through has not been for nothing, even though it somewhat feels that way for her.
A beautiful end to a seemingly classic story throws us for a heart wrenching and a great hoorah moment when Jenna tells Earl off with the promise of a divorce and also rejects Dr. Pomatter. She ultimately chooses herself and her daughter, Lulu, over both men.
Jenna breaks the cycle and the stereotype that a man will be her hero. In this moment, “Everything Changes” for both Jenna and Lulu for the best. She promises to tell Lulu “they were both born that day.”
VOX teen theatre critics had the opportunity to attend press night at “Waitress,” thanks to the generosity of Most Valuable Kids of Greater Atlanta and Broadway in Atlanta.