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Waitress Shows Us How Musicals Should be Filmed

"I didn’t plan it, but it’s finally something to feel."

Instead of a standard movie adaptation, Waitress drops us in the front row for an exciting experience with an electrified audience. The result is a pie-slinging drama with more excitement than just about anything you'll see all year.

I'm not much for musicals, which is frustrating since every person I know seems to think they're the highest form of entertainment. I keep a mental list of words and phrases to avoid saying because I know they will cause these people to drop whatever they're doing and embark on a three-hour review of some insufferable, beloved classic. And my life got much, much worse when TV shows began autotuning and overcompressing teenster vocals into nasal robotic voices that make me shrivel up in embarrassment.

But even I have my favorite musicals. I thoroughly enjoy both versions of West Side Story, and I think Sweeney Todd is perfection. But most musicals show me for what I really am, a football-loving chunkhead who snores through White Christmas. (Don't get me started on The Sound of Music.)

As a musical, Waitress shines, and if you've been wondering how well the movie works in song form, I can tell you it's a fantastic adaptation. For starters, the live, on-stage band gives every song an exciting edge, and the current trend of musicians being part of the set is one I'd like to see more of. The music grabs the audience and the lyrics hold everyone's attention (even mine) because the songs really tell the story. You'd think this would be normal, but you could skip the songs in a lot of classic musicals without missing an iota of plot. The music in Waitress masterfully guides us through the story and the emotional journeys of each character.

But the best part is the way it's been filmed. We hear the audience. We see the earpiece mics. We can almost reach out and touch the flour and sugar being poured out right in front of us. The director didn't try to hide the edge of the stage or moments between scenes when dancers push furniture aside to make room for the next set. Not everything is perfect, just like a normal show, and those imperfections make it more exciting when someone leaps over a chair or slings a pie all the way across a narrow bar. This kind of theater is thrilling in its intimacy, and the production crew gave us a perfect view. It's really the best seat in the house, because we get to take in the incredible set design and then move in close to see a character's subtle facial expressions.

I realize I might be overthinking this. Waitress, after all, was already a normal movie. But we're living in the third or fourth so-called renaissance of musical theater in Hollywood that I can remember, and there's not a lot of good films to show for it. I honestly don't think your average musical makes for a good movie. Not everything adapts to the big screen, but Waitress may have shown us the way forward. When a play is filmed as if it's actually a play, and not a movie, the stagecraft is allowed to tell the story in the unique way that makes theater a magical experience.

As a sometimes audio engineer, I could have done with less production on the vocals. One moment our characters are speaking in a charming, southern accent, and in the next jarring moment they're belting out at full blast with shiny, pop-star tones. For me, these moments pulled me away from the casual charm of the quaint pie shop and into an episode of The Voice, but not everyone is distracted by these things. The audience didn't seem to mind. Maybe I'm just an old man, but I miss hearing the uniqueness in people's voices that came out in older recording styles. Excuse me, I need to inflate my bath pillow.

Final Analysis: Waitress tells a beautiful, complicated story, and translates it from Broadway better than any musical adaptation I can think of. A must for musical lovers. Four out of five made up pies.

Adam D. Jones is an author, historian, and undefeated cat wrestler. He's also something of a skilled waiter himself, having recently brought his kitten the right food after the third try.


  1. When I was a kid I saw Sound of Music on stage, well before the movie was made. I loved it and was so looking forward to the movie. When I finally saw the movie, I was so unhappy because they took a nice, reasonable musical and bloated it by making sure they reprised virtually EVERY SINGLE SONG, which no, just no. I have not been able to watch it since. Oh, well such is the pursuit of the almighty dollar. The movie was a HUGE success for some reason, but it is not good.

  2. Interesting. I have never seen that on stage. The movie is a bore, but I should probably give the stage version a shot just to be fair. -Adam

  3. I wonder if they did it like this because of Hamilton? The movie was basically just the play being filmed and it was so, so good.

  4. You've probably already been bored by somebody highly recommending The Music Man and Singing in the Rain, but, if not, consider them recommended. And if you've already seen them and were bored by them, well, what can I say?

    (And even as I type this, I think of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Fiddler on the Roof, and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (Robert Morse version, natch) — and I will stop now.)

  5. Ooo! And Hadestown! Okay, I really will stop now.

    1. Although Hadestown isn't a film yet, so never mind.

  6. I bet having singer of Sara Bareilles talent leading the production makes the music stand out. While I can imagine at least the musical performances are amazing, I'm curious about her acting skill. I don't think I've seen her in anything before. Of course musicians often make great actors so this isn't a stretch.

    As for the main character, it is a difficult role. Requiring a lot of subtly in expression because she doesn't say a lot. The original movie really showcased Keri Russell's range. Of course adapting it with that whole music inner monologue thing might be a way to bypass that stuff.

    Then you get the doctor (originally played to adorkable perfection by Nathan Fillion) which is complicated character. Nathan did his best to make the character not seem horrible, it's a relatively thankless role.

    The trailer looks interesting at least, but this is not a property I would've imagined translating into a good musical. But now I'm gonna have to check it out.

  7. So looking into it further, Sara Bareilles adapted the movie to Broadway and wrote all the music. Now I have to watch it.


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