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‘Waitress’ delivers frothy, sweet, sentimental musical

In 2007, I saw “Waitress.” I fell in love with the little indie film, and touted scores of friends into seeing it.

Because I adored its exquisite blend of humor and anguish.

Last night, more than a decade later, I saw its musical-comedy offspring onstage at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco. I fell in like.

Because it’s frothy.

You could tell even before the raising of the curtain, which depicts a massive, lattice-topped fruit pie.

The storyline’s fairly simplistic: Jenna, a waitress and ace pastry-maker at Joe’s Pie Diner, is stuck in a loveless marriage, an unwanted pregnancy and a small community. But she stumbles onto hope via a baking contest with a $20,000 prize and a new doctor in town.

Christine Dwyer stars in “Waitress” at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre as expert pie-maker Jenna. Photo by Tim Trumble.

Strongest voices in the national touring company production belong to Christine Dwyer (as Jenna), who’s onstage virtually throughout the show’s two and a half hours; Bryan Fenkart, who nimbly portrays Jim Pomatter, an awkward, wedded gynecologist Jenna decides to play doctor with; and Anastacia McCleskey as Becky, one of Jenna’s two friends, a brassy waitress whose hunger for sex has reached the starvation level.

Sex, in fact, is one of the biggest differences between the non-musical movie and its staged musical counterpart. The latter’s peppered with multiple moments of mock eroticism, played almost entirely for laughs.

The show’s funniest segments, though, are owned by Jeremy Morse, who fashions with glee the sidesplitting Ogie, amateur magician and elfin stalker of Dawn, Jenna’s second, slightly ditsy sidekick (a clownish, screechy-voiced Jessie Shelton).

Morse’s elastic body movements and flawless slapstick timing defy an audience not to laugh.

Frequently amusing, too, are the lonnnng, lonnnnng, personalized names Jenna concocts for her pies.

Least funny is the brutish abuse of Jenna’s husband Earl (Matt DeAngelis).

Meanwhile, direction by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus, who previously guided “Pippin,” “Finding Neverland” and “Hair,” is close to impeccable: Scenes move as swiftly, and nearly as entertainingly, as TV’s top sitcoms.

Except when the book by Jessie Nelson becomes cliché-ridden.

Except when Jenna philosophizes to her unborn child in a highly histrionic manner.

Except when our trapped waitress-heroine momentarily contemplates if she should “make peace with happy-enough.”

Six-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles is responsible for the plot-accelerating lyrics and mostly countrified, mostly peppy melodies of the 19 musical numbers — accompanied by a nine-piece onstage band.

Clearly hearing the words is not always possible, though, particularly when they’re sung by a choral ensemble.

Dwyer, on the other hand, not only crushes the music but makes starring look easy, probably because she’s been around the musical-comedy block a few times before. She previously appeared in national tours of “Wicked” (as Elphaba), “Rent” and “Finding Neverland.”

What’s this show’s main recipe for success? Not the sugar, butter and flour it repeatedly references but its skillfully baking some modest moping into the comedy.

It also doesn’t hurt that the tour created by an all-female team is taking place right as the #MeToo movement flourishes.

A footnote: The “Waitress” program guide dedicates the production to Adrienne Shelly, writer, director and supporting actor of the film, who was murdered at age 40 by a construction worker less than three months before its premiere at Sundance.

As for my summary, I’m pushing it despite the possibility of your labeling it too foreseeable: Appreciating “Waitress” is as easy as pie because it caters to those who, like me, crave to experience life through the prism of love.

Especially if you like your super-sugary sweets laced with sentimentality.

“Waitress”plays at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco, through Nov. 11. Night performances, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $56 to $256 (subject to change). Information: (888) 746-1799 or

Contact Woody Weingarten at

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