As feel-good musical Waitress hits the UK stage, prepare yourself for the most fearless, kind-hearted feminist hero since Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl…
Most of us are tired of the Cinderella fairytale and instead, we want to be inspired by watching a female protagonist make it in the real world.
Jenna is an expert pie maker in a small town in America’s deep south, in Waitress the musical (which, by the way, is produces by the first female-led creative team on the West End).
She is stuck in a loveless marriage and low-paid job at Joe’s Diner, plus she has a new baby on the way.
But her resilience, courage and compassion leads to her rebuilding her life - on her own terms - and finding a recipe for happiness that’s as unique as she is.
Waitress is more than just sugar-coated musical theatre. It’s a moving portrayal of an inspiring woman who takes the circumstances of her life and shakes them up to create her own happy ever after. One that doesn’t involve a cliche romance or the archetypal ‘white knight in shining armour’.
Here’s what we learnt about life - and the importance of courage - from watching the show (three times, not even sorry):
1. Find your own recipe for happiness
While this is a feel-good musical, it’s not as though Jenna is leading a charmed life where everything goes to plan.
In the opening scene, we see our waitress with her boss Cal who is taking her tips, criticising her and threatening to take her job away. And, all this is on top of the news of an unwanted pregnancy and being stuck in a loveless marriage.
But Jenna is a force of nature. Strong, determined and optimistic, she pours her frustrations into a passion for baking and conjures up wonderful, experimental pies that everyone falls in love with.
Jenna is a real-life alchemist; making something wonderful (and tasty!) from a bad situation. And this is at the heart of why she is so inspiring.
Suddenly, that delayed train or frustrating conversation with your partner doesn’t seem so terrible after all. It’s all just part of the recipe of life.
Jenna even inspired me to bake - something unheard of in a girl who uses her oven for storage!
2. Don’t settle. Ever.
The story opens with Jenna stuck in a frankly abusive relationship with her husband Earl.
When she realises she’s pregnant, thanks to a test taken in the bathroom at Joe’s Diner, she is dismayed.
It seems as though, in this super-traditional set up, that Jenna would just have to put up with her lot, ‘stand by her man’ and all those other cliches better suited to 1950s America than to living the life of an empowered woman.
But, Jenna refuses to be dictated to by her circumstances.
She defies the heavy-handed societal expectations of her based on gender and class. She is fierce and a rare example of a powerful on-stage mother-to-be who is living life on her own terms.
Jenna begins an affair with her doctor, based on genuine passion and his admiration for her resilience, strength and compassion.
Later she shows Earl the door, and even kicks out Dr Jim Pomatter, because she refuses to be just ‘happy enough’.
In short, our kind of woman.
3. You don’t need to be perfect
The patriarchal ideal of the ‘perfect woman’; baking pies and becoming a mother, is turned upside down by the show.
Baking is a form of self-expression for Jenna. It’s not about adhering to the stereotypes of being the perfect wife and mother in America’s traditional deep south.
Like her own mother, Jenna uses baking as a way to escape the restrictions of her life.
The lyrics of ‘What Baking Can Do’ (written by Sara Bareilles0 are testament to this: “Make it work/Make it easy/Make it clever…Make it up/And surprise them/Tell them all my secrets but disguise them.”
But unlike her mother, Jenna isn’t content with just using baking as escapism. For her baking is a subversive act and one that sticks two fingers up to the misogyny (from her husband and her boss) that surrounds her.
The happy-ever-after ending of this incredible musical isn’t a lavish white wedding or a romantic falling-into-the-arms of a handsome doctor.
It’s a fearless, powerful single woman realising she can create her own life - and that she doesn’t need to adhere to anyone else’s idea of ‘perfect’.
And that’s pretty darn near to perfection in our books.
4. Know when to quit
When Jenna finally tells Earl to get out of her life, there was a spontaneous roar of applause from the audience every time I saw Waitress on Broadway.
And no wonder, it’s the feeling we all have when a friend walks out of a difficult relationship, because she realises she’s too good for that.
All the classic signs of a controlling relationship are on display when it comes to Earl and Jenna. He takes out his anger at being fired on her.
He makes her promise to never love their unborn baby more than he loves her - and he threatens her when she asks for a divorce.
Not only is Jenna brave, she knows she deserves a better life.
Whether it’s a relationship, a job or a friendship that is making you unhappy (or only ‘happy enough’), Waitress is full of that inescapable optimism that inspires you to leave it behind.
5. Acknowledge kindness in your life
Despite some difficult people in her life, Jenna still believes in the good of humanity - without being cheesy about it.
And that faith in people serves her well. When her baby is born, Jenna opens the note that Joe, the curmudgeonly yet good-hearted, owner of the diner left her.
Joe has kindly and unexpectedly given Jenna and amazing gift (we won’t tell you what it is) and it’s a reminder of the goodness of people.
Jenna is a great friend herself, even when she’s having a tough time; another reason she’s a genuinely inspiring.
She helps the anxious and inexperienced Dawn prepare for her blind date by giving Dawn a special pie to give - while Becky does Dawn’s makeup in a ritualistic scene about the power of female friendship - and great baking.
The three waitresses support each other’s hopes and dreams for the future in a homage to strong female friendship everywhere.
Waitress opens at the Adelphi Theatre in London on 8th February. Book your tickets now.