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It’s long past time that Jessie Mueller got to appear in a Broadway musical that makes full use of her formidable talents. While she scored a solid hit in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” she was impersonating a shy, mousy homemaker turned singer-songwriter, not playing the kind of larger-than-life role from which stardom is born. Would that “Waitress” were that show. No such luck: It’s a tourist-trap romcom that has little to offer but Ms. Mueller and her fine supporting cast.
Closely based on Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film and uninterestingly directed by Diane Paulus, “Waitress” tells the story of Jenna (Ms. Mueller), an unhappily married small-town waitress and virtuoso pie maker. She gets pregnant, falls in love with her handsome-but-married obstetrician, embarks on a torrid-but-doomed affair and is thereby inspired to…but need I go on? Everything that happens in “Waitress” is as familiar as a cafeteria salad—you could write your own synopsis of the chick-flick plot five minutes after the curtain goes up—and the characterizations are just as obvious….
Ms. Mueller, on the other hand, is so good that you’ll actively resent the mediocrity of “Waitress.” She’s an unusual hybrid, a world-class singer with the soul of a character actor who burrows so deeply into her parts as to become all but unrecognizable. Few musical-theater performers seem so real, and fewer still are such gifted actors that you’d be just as glad to see them in a straight play. As dull as “Waitress” is, she ennobles it….
“Fully Committed,” Becky Mode’s 2000 one-man play about a hapless young wannabe actor who takes reservation requests at an ultra-trendy Manhattan restaurant, has been revived on Broadway as a vehicle for Jesse Tyler Ferguson (“Modern Family,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”). The conceit of the show, snappily staged by Jason Moore, is that the star also plays 40 other people, most of them callers who are desperate to get a table. The immensely likable Mr. Ferguson doesn’t quite have the vocal flexibility necessary to impersonate so widely varied a gallery of characters, and so the tour-de-force aspect of “Fully Committed” isn’t fully realized. Even so, his acting crackles with physical energy and comic life…
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To read my complete review of Waitress, go here.
To read my complete review of Fully Committed, go here.
Jessie Mueller sings “She Used to Be Mine,” a song from Waitress: