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The Playhouse Square touring production of “Waitress” is a slice of life and love

On occasion when I was growing up my mother would bake an apple pie. It was a simple recipe of apples, flour, sugar, butter and cinnamon but the fact that it was made with love (the most important ingredient of all according to my mom) it was the best pie I have ever had up until I met my wife.

Every so often in musical theater all of the elements of a production’s recipe come together for a truly wonderful experience. The right show comes to the right venue with the right cast and real magic happens on stage. This is what nearly happened on opening night in the Hanna Theatre at Playhouse Square with the opening of Jessie Nelson (Book) and Sara Bareilles (Music and Lyrics) production of “Waitress.” The show is based on the Adrienne Shelly motion picture of the same name.

This is the second time that the touring Broadway show has played in Cleveland. It was rehearsed and opened October 20, 2017 at Playhouse Square. What makes this tour special is that the new production is being presented in the 550 seat Hanna Theatre as opposed to the 2,800 seat Connor Palace. This is an advantage. “Waitress” is a story designed for the small stage and you find yourself drawn in to the intimacy.

On the eastern border ofIndiana somewhere around Richmond where State Route 27 and Interstate 70 meet sits Joe’s Pie Diner that specializes guessed it...pies. These are not just any pies, these are pies that will evoke thoughts of home and mom and growing up and love and when life was much simpler. With names such as “kick in the pants peppermint”, “ginger snap out of it”, “couch potato” and “mama’s lavender lullaby” pie.

The pies are the creations of Jenna (Stephanie Torns) who was taught to bake by her mom. Jenna works with an oddball crew that includes Cal (Timothy John Smith) the biker short order cook, Becky (Olivia Lucy Phillip) a sassy take no prisoners waitress and tiny Dawn (Kendyl Ito) who is the image of shyness. These four truly care about each other.This trio serves the regular customers that includes Joe (Bill Nolte) who is the owner ofhis namesake Pie Diner (along with most of the nearby town) but he will only let Jenna wait on him and is very particular as to how his meal is arranged and served.

Jenna is stuck in an abusive marriage to Earl (Brad Standley) who takes all of her earnings including tips. While falling short to striking his wife his demeaning treatment and verbal abuse is just as bad if not worse. Into this mix Jenna has been experiencing weeks of morning sickness. Becky and Dawn finally convince her to take a pregnancy test. It comes out positive much to Jenna’s dismay.

Her next stop is to see her doctor (who had delivered her many years ago). Instead she is introduced to the rather handsome but nerdy Dr. Pomatter and told that her old doctor has retired. After accepting the awkwardly endearing doctor to treat her, she offers Dr. Pomatter a pie which he refuses because “I stopped doing sugar” but when Jenna leaves the doctor sneaks a taste (using his stethoscope as a spoon) and has an out of body experience.

Romance quickly overtakes everyone as Jenna and the doctor connect, Dawn meets Ogie online and Becky has a fling with Cal. During his next visit, Joe shows Jenna an article about a big prize pie baking contest and encourages her to enter. Jenna begins hiding moneyfrom Earl for the entrance fee.

This show has a lot going for it. On the plus side the smaller venue of the Hanna brings the audience up close and personal. On the down side the six piece on stage orchestra while excellent drowns out everyone on stage. Even the speaking rolls are over mic’d making it very hard to understand what is being spoken. Hopefully this is a fixable glitch and the show will improve as it goes along.

While none of the songs will have you singing as you exit they do fit the story line very well and paint a nice picture in music to move the story along. Most notable is Jenna’s rendition of “Bad Idea”, Ogie and Company “Never Getting Rid Of Me” and “I Love You Like A Table”, Jenna and Dr. Pomatter “You Matter To Me” and “It Only Takes A Taste” and Joe and Company “Take it From An Old Man.”

As for the actors, you will be hard pressed to find a more cohesive group. The timing is perfect. Daniel Quadrino as Ogie steals the showwith his dancing antics and Paul Revere romantic overtures to Dawn with her as Betsy Ross. Olivia Lucy Phillip as Becky has the right balance of sass and brass combined with romance. Stephanie Torns as Jenna has the audience eating out of her hand. At some point you want to rush the stage en masse and give her a group hug. She has a wonderfully strong singing voice and her romance with the doctor is endearing. Bill Nolte is well acquainted with the roll of Joe and is in top form once again. Brian Fenkart as Dr. Pomatter nails the part. His reaction to the various dessert treats are a real hoot.

The show is re-staged by Abbey O’Brien based on the original stage directions of Diane Paulus. Although two hours in length plus intermission the show moves along well. The comedy is well timed and cutely funny.

Flour...Sugar...Butter...Flour...Sugar...Butter and of course Love. These are the ingredients that go into making a great pie and Love makes everything special including this show. Take someone special to see it and afterwards go out for some pie.

“Waitress” will be on stage at the Hanna Theatre at Playhouse Square through June 26, 2022. For more information and tickets go to or call (216) 241-6000.


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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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