Tag Archives: Wendy Mae Brown

Serves Us Right

WAITRESS

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 28th June 2022

The last musical I saw that was based around pie-making was Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.  This show has a completely different flavour.  Based on a film from 2005, this hit musical is on the road at last.  It’s the story of Jenna (Chelsea Halfpenny) who is not only the titular waitress but also something of a master baker.  Her pie is the talk of the town and, this being small town America, when they talk of pie, they usually mean sweet dishes and desserts.

The scene is Joe’s Pie Diner and it’s populated with a host of eccentric characters.  Everyone we meet is clearly defined by their personal quirks.  Jenna’s co-workers are Becky, the sassy black one, and Dawn, the goofy, nerdish one.  Their boss is manager-cook Cal, who is irascible, and they are visited daily by the diner’s grumpy owner, Joe.  An ensemble makes up extras but also, with some nice touches of physical theatre, represent what’s going on in Jenna’s mind.

Jenna is at a turning point.  Her redneck husband Earl has put a bun in her oven, thwarting her dreams of leaving him, but then Joe tells her of a pie-baking contest where the prize money would be enough to set her up in a new life…  But then Jenna goes and falls for her gynaecologist.  Things are looking up, you might say.

Jenna’s the most grounded of the characters, and Chelsea Halfpenny plays her with heart and warmth, proving she can belt when required by the score.  You can’t help liking her.  David Hunter is hilarious as handsome Doctor Pomatter, socially awkward and gauche, making an unusual leading man.  Wendy Mae Brown lifts her Becky above the stereotype – her rich, chocolate voice a real treat when she finally gets a solo.  Evelyn Hoskins’s Dawn could quite easily be Hairspray’s Penny Pingleton, playing the comedy very broadly.  Again, we can’t help liking her.  Even sour-tempered Cal (Christopher D Hunt) has his moments.

Dawn’s dating-site suitor comes along and out-quirks everyone: George Crawford in a scene-stealing role as Ogie.  And there is more to Tamlyn Henderson’s Earl, Jenna’s controlling, redneck husband, the villain of the piece; we get to glimpse his vulnerability and why Jenna fell for him in the first place.  There is also some delicious sarcasm from Scarlet Gabriel’s Nurse Norma.  Michael Starke (yes, Sinbad off of Brookside!) channels Colonel Sanders for his turn as Joe, something of a father figure for Jenna.  His song, Take It From An Old Man touches even my jaded heart.

Music and lyrics are by Sara Bareilles, and it’s a jaunty, likeable score. beautifully played by the on-stage band, led by Ellen Campbell. Almost everything is sweet and upbeat – even a number about doing a pregnancy test.  Jessie Nelson’s book is peppered with good humour that the cast plays to the hilt.  Sometimes, the comedy feels a little forced and the resolution is a little too pat – but this is musical theatre, so we allow it.

All in all, Waitress serves a lot of feel-good fun, keeping on the right side of saccharine sickliness.

Flantastic.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Wendy Mae Brown, Chelsea Halfpenny and Evelyn Hoskins (Photo: Johan Persson)

Ghost in the Machinery

GHOST – THE MUSICAL

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 4th June, 2013

 

Joining the lengthening list of stage musicals that were originally films (the bland Legally Blonde, for example, or the divine Sister Act) is this fairly straight adaptation by Bruce Joel Rubin of his own original, Oscar-winning screenplay. The production goes full out with the bells and whistles.  Things have come a long way since Pepper’s Ghost.  Lorry-loads of screens, gauzes and projectors make the world of the show, forever changing in configuration.  Moving images locate scenes specifically – a cityscape, a bank – but also enhance the musicality; shapes and symbols whizz by, and the chorus is multiplied as ghostly figures join in with the dancing.  It’s like the early days of MTV.

Of course, we anticipate the supernatural effects. How will they be achieved?  They do not disappoint.  In particular, there is one sequence on a subway train that is stunningly effective and effect-full. I found myself puzzling over how these effects were created, yanked out of any emotional attachment to the story by my theatrical curiosity.  

Not that I was deeply involved anyway.  The story is simple one. Young man gets murdered, comes back as the titular ghost to warn his girlfriend that she is in danger from his killer… The two leads are good.  Stewart Clarke is banker Sam Wheat, although he looks more like he should be modelling gym equipment, crunching abs rather than numbers.  I found him a little too shouty after his demise, his voice amplified too much.  This is a very loud show.  Rebecca Trehearn is bereaved girlfriend Molly – a thankless role that requires her to grieve volubly for a couple of hours.  She sings well, belting out long note after long note; tied semibreves are her leitmotif, it seems.

The score by Eurhythmics legend Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard is serviceable but not particularly memorable.  The best tune in it is the appropriated Unchained Melody that crops up from time to time as ‘their’ song.

Ghost really comes to life, ha ha, whenever Wendy Mae Brown is on stage.  She plays psychic charlatan Oda Mae Brown (no relation) a kind of Deep South Derek Acorah through whom Sam seeks to communicate with Molly.  All the comedy of the piece stems from this character and Wendy Mae Brown works it with all the eye-rolling and sass she can muster. It seems to me that Oda Mae’s story is the more interesting one: the con artist who discovers she really has a ‘gift’ after all.

Ivan de Freitas is suitably grungy as rent-a-bad-guy Willy Lopez and David Roberts shows smarm and selfishness to the Machiavellian and treacherous Carl.  Stevie Hutchinson brings impressive physicality to his role as the ‘Subway Ghost’- It’s a shame about the rap, though.  I found the dialogue scenes work much better on the whole than the musical numbers. 

Technically and visually, the production is astounding, but it’s as if the show won’t relinquish its cinematic origins.  I found the story dwarfed by the machinery – what could be a look into the grieving process (through the prisms of thriller and romantic comedy) instead becomes a metaphor for the way in which technology dominates our lives.

ghostmusical