Playwright: Jessie Nelson and Sara Bareilles
At: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St. Tickets: $39-107; BroadwayInChicago.com; 312-977-1700. Runs through: July 22
Recipe for everything you could desire in a musical pie:
Start with sugar, butter and flour. Fold in enjoyable characters based on a sweet little 2007 Adrienne Shelley film. Add lovely tunes by Sara Bareilles and a clever book by Jessie Nelson. Mix well with a story about a pregnant pie shop waitress who desperately needs to escape her abusive husband and ends up having an affair with her doctor. Blend with humor and bake for two and a half hours in front of a live audience.
Shelley's story tells of Jenna ( played here by Desi Oakley ), whose pregnancy complicates her plan to get away from her dead-end life with Earl ( Nick Bailey ). She spends her days baking pies and coming up with new recipes for things like "Devil's Food Chocolate Oasis Pie" and "I Can't Have An Affair Because It's Wrong ( And I Don't Want Earl To Kill Me ) Pie." She dreams of somehow winning a pie-baking contest and disappearing from the life she has led, which fortunately for her includes two great friends, the shy Dawn ( Leanne Klingaman ) and boisterous Becky ( Charity Angel Dawson ) who help keep her sane, and a cantankerous boss Cal ( Ryan G. Dunkin ) who isn't anywhere near as bad as he wants to be seen.
When discovery of her pregnancy leads her to consult the new gynecologist in town ( Bryan Fenkart ), Jenna's life grows even more complicated. The two have an instant awkward chemistry that Oakley and Fenkart play beautifully and comically. Both are immensely likable actors, and it's easy to want them to be happy together despite the fact that this is an affair for both of them.
Bareilles is clever enough to showcase individually almost her entire cast. Klingaman's "When He Sees Me" lets us get deeper into Dawn's inner life as she imagines a date with someone she met online. That date turns out to be Ogie ( Jeremy Morse ), who has his own hilarious solo with "Never Getting Rid Of Me." Dawson too has a highlight moment as she explains her own affair in "I Didn't Plan It." Even Old Joe, the shop's owner, gets into the act with the sweet "Take It From an Old Man." But it's Jenna who gets the bulk of the songs, whether she is singing with Fenkart ( the comic "Bad Idea" or the sweet "You Matter to Me" ), with her friends ( "Opening Up" ) or on her own ( the poignant "She Used to be Mine" ), and Oakley's strong voice and equally strong acting utterly endear her to the audience.
This is an uplifting and joyful play that, under Diane Paulus's direction, zips along very quickly. And it's clear that this excellent cast is having a good time, which is the recipe for Standing Ovation Pie, a heaping serving of which was doled out at the end of the opening performance. Joe's Pie Diner is a fun and lively place full of delightful performances and delicious momentsa joyous place to spend the evening.