'Waitress' at the Forrest Theatre: Too sweet, too shallow

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(Left to right:) Charity Angel Dawson, Desi Oakley and Lenne Klingaman in the national tour of "Waitress," Feb. 13-18 at the Forrest Theatre.

There may be sugar in the pies, but there’s saccharine on the stage. Waitress, part of the Broadway Philadelphia series, is making a six-day stopover at the Forrest through Sunday, and, like saccharine, everything about this show seems fake and oversweet and leaves a weird taste in your mouth: the stereotypical trashy country folk, the corny plot line, the forgettable songs, the sentimental lyrics, the preposterous choreography, and the cliched acting, complete with every double-take, eye-roll, and mmm-hmmm they can manage.

The plot is like 2½ hours of Dr. Phil set to music. Jenna (Desi Oakley) is a waitress in some hick town diner, where she is a pie-making genius. The only suspense in the story is whether she will save enough money to get to the city and enter a pie-making contest. But as she is married to vulgar, abusive Earl (Nicky Bailey), who finds her secret stash of money, her dreams are – wait for it – shattered.

Needless to say, she is unhappy. So, inevitably, when she finds herself pregnant, and a young doctor (Bryan Fenkart) comes to town to replace her gynecologist, she falls for him. And, if you want a moment of true grotesquerie, Act 1 ends with the pregnant, married Jenna and her married obstetrician having sex on his exam table, stirrups and all.

Her two pals, Becky (Charity Angel Dawson) and Dawn (Lenne Klingaman), are also looking for love, and given that this is a triple-whammy sitcom/rom-com, they do in fact find their suitable matches in Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin), who runs the diner; and Ogie (Jeremy Morse), respectively. Joe (Larry Marshall) owns the diner, and his song, “Take It From an Old Man” is the best of the evening.

The news release calls this show empowering because it has an “all-female creative team.” Please. Yes, the book is by a woman (Jessie Nelson) and the music and lyrics are by a woman (Sara Bareilles), based on a movie written by a woman (Adrienne Shelly) and directed by a woman (Diane Paulus). But those facts by themselves do not make a sufficient argument for good sexual politics or good art.

Theater

Waitress

    • Through Sunday, Feb. 18, at the Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut St. Tickets: $62-$122. Information: 215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.