My of-necessity delayed birthday gift from TYG was a trip to the musical WAITRESS at Durham’s performing arts center on May 6. We loved it. Later TYG streamed the Keri Russell/Nathan Filion 2007 movie that inspired it, and that rewatched as poorly as it did the first time I saw it (TYG didn’t care for it either). The concept and most of the plot is the same, but the execution is different, and the musical executes it better. Like Hodgson’s The Night World, it proves that execution is as important as concept.
The central character is a waitress, Jenna, stuck in an emotionally abusive (maybe physical — we never see anything but it feels like that), loveless marriage, pouring her repressed feeling out into her pies at the local diner. As the movie opens, Jenna discovers she’s pregnant, having lapsed and slept with her husband. She’s not happy to bring a baby into this relationship. Then it turns out her doctor just retired and now she’s stuck with Nathan Filion, a married out-of-town doctor who’s immediately smitten by her. Before long they’re having an affair. In other plotlines one waitress meets a rather stalkery guy online and marries him; the other, older waitress is knocking boots with the fry cook (they’re both married, but for various reasons, neither one is having sex). Finally Jenna ends her affair and walks out on Earl. Her wealthiest, crotchetiest customer (Andy Griffith) dies and leaves her the diner, so she’s able to start a new life on her own two feet.
As I said the first time, it’s a generic Quirky Southern Town film (TYG called it “typical indie chick flick”). The characters are not particularly likeable — everyone seems pissed and miserable — and they’re not very distinctive.
The musical does a much better job. First off, it’s a musical, and the singing and dancing are good. That automatically makes it more fun.
Second, the characters seem much more likable and much more distinctive. Dawn, the waitress who meets someone online, is just a shy, insecure young woman in the movie. In the play, she’s a history nerd who watches the History Channel all the time and has appeared as Betsy Ross 27 historical re-enactments. She also has a great song expressing her insecurity (“What if I like what I see/And he knows it?/What if I open a door/And can’t close it?”) which works better than anything in the show. Her persistent beau doesn’t come across as stalkery, and they’re a more believable couple (“The turtle and the elf — an epic love story!”).
In short it’s solid proof that execution is at least as important as concept.
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