Typical-seeming musical, 'Waitress,' spins not-so-typical tale

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SCHENECTADY, N.Y - Sometimes typical shows are not so typical.

For instance, "Waitress, which arrives tonight at Proctors for an eight-performance run through Sunday, seems to tell a very ordinary story. Jenna Hunterson is a waitress in a job that she likes, but doesn't love. Things get complicated when she gets pregnant by her husband whom she doesn't even like.

She spends the rest of the show fighting for a happy ending.

That's the shallow description of the show. Knowing the details of Jenna's life changes a "typical" show to a work that explores unusual topics for a Broadway musical. The most important piece of information is that her reasons for not liking her husband are that he's emotionally cruel and physically abuses her. Plus, the pregnancy was unplanned and unwanted.

Too, the manner in which she tries to cope with her problems is a bit unorthodox. She has an affair with her OB/GYN, a married man.

Perhaps the most satisfying solution she comes up with is that being a master at baking pies, she decides to enter a national pie baking contest and with the presumed winnings, she plans to leave her husband and care for her new baby.

Playing Jenna in the national tour is Christine Dwyer who readily admits that her character makes a number of bad choices. "Jenna represents a typical human being. We all make mistakes," she said during a phone interview. "Yes, some of her choices can make you feel uncomfortable. That's OK. In fact, it's the beauty of the show. It's about a person who isn't perfect."

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She continues, saying, "The important message is that things can change and will change if you keep working through your mistakes. It really has a hopeful message."

Dwyer is quick to point out that even though Jenna lives a tough life, she is never portrayed as a victim. "What I most admire about her is that even though she is struggling in her own life, she is always trying to help others. Her co-workers and regulars at the diner love her and she makes everyone feel good."

The actress takes a pause as she realizes the tone of the interview might be making the show seem a solemn experience. "It does address some serious themes, but it's not a dark depressing play by Sam Shepard," she said with a laugh. "It's really filled with fun and funny moments."

Indeed, it is the relationships between the people at the diner that provide the love and laughter. Dwyer mentions her friendships with Dawn and Becky, the other two waitresses at the diner. "It's a sisterhood," she says.

She specifically mentions Dawn's relationship with Ogie as one of the more delightful relationships in the show. They are an awkward pair who share the hobby of being Revolutionary War reenactors who meet on line. "They are just so much fun. Try not to love them," she said with a somewhat challenging tone.

She speaks highly of the score as well, though her praise seems a little begrudging. "It's a terrific score to listen to. Each song is a story," she says. However, she acknowledges it's deceptively hard to sing. She explains that the music and lyrics were written by Sara Bareilles, a well-known Broadway performer who is also a pop singer/composer. "She has a famously perfect voice. For her, it's nothing to go from the basement to the top of your range." After a slight pause, she jokes, "But for us humans ."

This is the fourth national tour for Dwyer, who's performed at Proctors in leading roles in "Rent," "Wicked" (twice) and "Finding Neverland." She calls the role of the flawed Jenna the most human and satisfying to play. In other words, a typical untypical character.


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