"WAITRESS" SERVES IT UP WITH IRRESISTIBLE APPETITE
"Waitress" sings along to the adventures of (from left) Dawn, Jenna and Becky.

Set aside your cynical spirit, your inner demand for the perfect show from Broadway in Tucson. Settle back in your seat at Centennial Hall to enjoy the sometimes silly, always quirky, but totally engaging Broadway (and Tony nominated) musical "Waitress."

All of which is to say "This cast knows how to put in the zing, the sass, the tenderness and tears because they arrive onstage backed by hefty resumes."

Since the roles include two nerdy guys, a short-tempered grill guy, and an abusive guy, it might be worth noting that much is being made nationally of the fact "Waitress" is the first Broadway show created entirely by women -- music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, book by Jessie Nelson, direction by Diane Paulus and choreography by Lorin Latarro.

The heroes are a trio of diner waitresses -- Jenna (Christine Dwyer), Dawn (Jessie Shelton) and Becky (Maiesha McQueen). All three have Broadway experience and voices to match.

Not to be outdone, the male leads of Dr. Pomatter (Steven Good), Ogie (Jeremy Morse) and bad boy Earl (Matt DeAngelis) are also Broadway veterans. Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin, the diner's sweaty cook, has a solid resume of national tours, off-Broadway shows and regional theater.

Meanwhile, the curmudgeonly Joe (Larry Marshall), owner of the diner, has been featured in 15 Broadway productions, named in many theater award programs.

Art house movie fans will remember "Waitress" was first an independent release written and directed by female film pioneer Adrienne Shelly in 2007. The film was a big hit on the art house circuit, but Shelly was tragically killed shortly after the picture's release.

Reflecting these independent cinema roots, "Waitress" in Centennial Hall loves being precariously eccentric and bouncy. Every role is filled with impish energy -- except Earl, the mean-spirited husband. His acting chops are so good he was still getting booed at the standing ovation and curtain call.

Here's  how it goes. Brave hearted Jenna has an unhappy marriage with Earl but compensates by baking the most delicious pies every morning, seeking unusual combinations of ingredients and giving her creations unusual names.

Once the pies are baked, Jenna joins her diner workmates Becky the sassy one and Dawn the shy, awkward one.

The show is barely underway when we learn Jenna could enter a county pie baking contest and, if she won, would have enough money to leave her abusive husband. Then she also learns she is pregnant.

At the same time, Dawn and Becky are getting their personalities established. The real fun begins when Jenna finds herself falling in love with her handsome new gynacologist, Dr. Pomatter.

When the good doctor returns this attraction Jenna is really stuck. She is married to a man she doesn't love and is in love with a man married to someone else.

But hey, not to worry. This is a hit Broadway musical with lots of singing and dancing. And the stage set changes are so complicated, with so many movieng parts, each one practially becomes an additional theatrical moment.

Of particular note is the brilliantly awkward dancing of Ogie, as he "courts" the reluctant (but inwardly delighted) Dawn. Becky is also good at comedy, becoming the audience favorite for her determination to stand to Cal.

"Waitress" continues through Sunday, Dec. 9, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5-6, 8 p.m. Dec. 7,  2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Dec. 8, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 9, in Centennial Hall at the University of Arizona. Tickets start at $29. For details, broadwayintucson.com










AT THE GASLIGHT, IT'S THE 1950S AND SCROOGE LIVES IN DICKENSVILLE, USA

Jacob Marley (Joe Cooper) and Ebenezer Scrooge (David Orley) recall old times.

Imagine, if you will, that Charles Dickens was living and writing in Dickensville, USA, in the 1950s. Yes, the very town known worldwide for its insidiously delicious Dickens Cider.

You can do that at the Gaslight Theatre, where this holiday season Peter Van Slyke has written and directed “Scrooge: A Gaslight Musical.”

You would also find the black-and-white checkerboard Dickensville Diner, owned and operated by kind-hearted Bob Cratchit (Mike Yarema) and his sweet wife Gwen (Heather Stricker, looking for all the world like Betty Crocker on those cake mix boxes).

But, gosh darn it, when Bob goes over to the town's only loan office, run by partners Scrooge and Marley to ask about a loan – on the day before Christmas, mind you – hard-hearted Scrooge himself is there to say “No deal.”

Though his language is much different from the words Charles Dickens gave to the original Scrooge in London, small town Scrooge is no more sympathetic to the plight of the poor. Not even at Christmastime.

This Scrooge (David Orley) does have a snappy 1950s style brown suit and haircut, though. He looks quite prosperous. And his office has central heating,

But then the story starts to appear more traditional when the cruel skinflint miser slips into his olde English styled bathrobe with wide red lapels trimmed in gold braid, with a matching night cap that is quite fetching.

Quicker than you can say “Grandma Tony's Pizza” here come the clanking chains wrapped around remorseful Jacob Marley (Joe Cooper). Wasting no time, the repentant Marley warns Scrooge he will be visited by three Spirits that night – and he is.

Mixing in some spirited songs, they began to arrive. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Janee Page) seems to have drawn the inspiration for her appearance from Studio 54 and the future disco era, wearing a white gown and arriving on a feathery silver circle that seems to float in mid-air.

Not to be outdone, and possibly as a tribute to the Gaslight Theatre itself, the ebullient Ghost of Christmas Present (Jake Chapman) has turned to the hip swinging moves of Elvis Presley,

The ever so dour Ghost of Christmas Future, always my personal favorite, keeps its hooded face hidden and isn't even mentioned in the program.

The Gaslight version also includes a big Christmas party thrown by extra-gregarious Mayor Fezziwig (Todd Thompson) at Fezziwig's Hardware Store, and a scene recounting the plight of the Cratchit family's sickly young son.

But that is just the plot, This is, after all “Scrooge: A Gaslight Musical” with song after song coming quickly along. Several of the numbers, with musical direction by Linda Ackerman, aren't well known but fit the story.

Among the popular favorites are “It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” “I Fall Asleep Counting My Blessings,” “I'll Have A Blue Christmas Without You” and Marley singing to Scrooge “Unchain Your Heart.”

What else could follow such upbeat merriment but “Grandma's Country Christmas Olio.” Of course there is a recounting of the time “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” as well as a proper tribute to “Leroy the Redneck Reindeer.” And did we mention a visit by Santa himself?


“Scrooge: A Gaslight Musical” continues through Jan. 6, with shows Tuesdays through Sundays at various times each day, at the Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway. Tickets (plus tax) are $22.95 adults; $20.95 students, seniors, military; $12.95 children 2-12. Reservations are a must. For details and reservations, 520-886-9428, or visit the Gaslight box office 10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.