Tag Archives: Laura Baldwin

“Waitress” at the Adelphi Theatre

Let the cooking puns commence: Sarah Bareilles’ Broadway hit has arrived in London. An appetite for the show is easy to understand – it has charm and a great leading lady. The story is an everyday tale from a female perspective with surprisingly gritty touches: a welcome change for such a crowd-pleasing, mainstream project. It’s essentially a show about motherhood, which makes it hard to knock and easy to be moved by. Nonetheless, Waitress is not to all tastes.

Despite efforts at realism showing life’s sour side, the show is (sorry) too sweet. Its ‘Queen of Kindness’ heroine Jenna fails to convince, despite Katharine McPhee’s efforts. Meanwhile her salt-of-the-earth friends, played by Marisha Wallace and Laura Baldwin, who sound fantastic, are sketchy characters. All these lives revolve around men – at least, until Jenna has a baby – and you don’t have to be much of a feminist to think that’s not good enough for 2019. Still, the trio are heart-warming, the performances winning, and the book from Jessie Nelson has a nice grasp on an early midlife crisis, alongside an interesting take on American ideals. In short, it’s not devoid of ideas.

The songs are good from the start and get better throughout. There’s an excellent main refrain and a stand-out number. A strong country music feel, with a touch of the musical Once, the score is by far the best thing about the show. And the delivery is superb. McPhee is visiting from the States and has real star quality. How much she overshadows everything else is a tricky issue – Jenna is a massive role and, ultimately to the show’s detriment, all the other characters feel insignificant. The humour is terrible: adolescent nudges at sex, a sassy African-American and couple of geeks are very dated. Diane Paulus’ direction is efficient and brisk but cannot gloss over the bad jokes.

A selection of dire roles for men makes you wonder if a point is being made about the poor parts women have had to suffer in the past. And none of the men performing helps give any role depth. There’s the odious husband who takes Jenna’s cash and demands she love him more than her unborn child, and the gynaecologist she has an affair with (in his consulting room… eek) and who loves her for her “sad eyes” – if your mother didn’t warn you about men who say that, let me take the opportunity to do so now. It’s no wonder this lot can be done away with so quickly, the question is why Jenna bothered with them in the first place. And that’s without adding the character sketches for her friends’ partners, who are also awful. Concluding with the owner of the diner Jenna works in, who ends up as her fairy godfather (sigh), the show’s wish- fulfilment ends up more than just silly. Jenna gets on in the world not through her cooking skills but by being the owner’s friend. Contrary to all intentions, we end up with a dumb waitress.

Until 19 October 2019


Photo by Johan Persson

“Eugenius” at The Other Palace

Here’s yet another irreverent musical, this time taking comic books and their creators as its subject, full of tongue-in-cheek fun and aspiring to cult status. A transfer to the Ambassadors Theatre was announced and cancelled just today. Let’s hope the breaking news is just a postponement to future success. The show is primed to do well by Ian Talbot’s admirably ambitious direction, which ensures that Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins’ piece impresses. There’s plenty of enjoyment to be had, even if Eugenius is a tame affair that too gently pokes fun at theatre and heroics: it’s competent, entertaining and only just short of super.

Reservations arise not just because the piece is derivative, although you will probably recognise a lot of other shows that have inspired it. Adam and Wilkins’ book is a bit messy and the humour tepid. There’s a coming-of-age story that’s whisked to Hollywood just as it’s settling down, with a clumsy competition device where our hero’s unpublished comic is to be turned into a film. Then there’s a half-developed struggle for integrity before the fictional world of ‘Tough Man’ collides with reality to provide us with moral lessons. None of this is bad, although the lyrics are strictly functional, but it’s Talbot who powers the show.

Christopher Ragland and Rob Houchen

Much is made of time and setting – America in 1988 – and the show cleverly cashes in on nostalgia. But the nudges to recollection are superficial, achieved by constantly throwing in references. There’s little effort to make the characters specific either. Their ages are a bit of puzzle and another niggle is ignoring how snobbish comic book geeks can be! It’s unbelievable that they would be so egalitarian with their references. Here it’s the performances that win out. Rob Houchen makes for an appealing lead as Eugene, likewise his love interest Janey and best friend Feris are engagingly performed by Laura Baldwin and Daniel Buckley. The whole cast gets the chance to shine with a lot of dual roles as Eugene’s fantasy connects with real life: Christopher Ragland and Simon Thomas both benefit.

It’s a shame that the love story in Eugenius is so predictable. Comics themselves have been challenging since before people started using the term heteronormative – so it’s odd to end up making fun of something more sophisticated than your own parody. The role of Janey is particularly unsatisfying, no matter how much irony is intended. Thankfully, when it comes to the most important thing – the music – Adams and Wilkins are on firmer ground. They can write a catchy tune and the score coheres well at several points. There’s a nice mix of pastiche and sincerity that offsets a lot of contrived moves. It may be a case of promise rather than something to rave about, but Eugenius deserves success.

Until 21 October 2018


Photos by Scott Rylander