The Best of Ingredients

Drew Gehling and Jesse Mueller  in “Waitress,” directed by Diane Paulus, at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.  | JOAN MARCUS
Drew Gehling and Jesse Mueller in “Waitress,” directed by Diane Paulus, at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. | JOAN MARCUS

BY DAVID KENNERLEY | It’s almost impossible to talk about “Waitress,”the highly anticipated new musical about a careworn server at a Southern roadside diner who also creates its yummy pies, without slipping into corny baking metaphors. Especially when Jessie Nelson (book) and soulful pop singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles (who wrote the superb music and lyrics) have strenuously drawn parallels between baking pies and healing broken hearts, extracting joy from pain, making peace with “happy enough,” and seizing your dreams.

The ingredients of this alternately moody and snappy comic drama, based on the 2007 film of the same name, are chosen with utmost care. You could say that down-to-earth Jenna, the titular waitress (the divine Jessie Mueller, Tony Award-winner for “Beautiful, The Carole King Musical”) serves as the flour for this endeavor. Trapped in a loveless marriage to a brute, she finds herself pregnant and miserable. She gives her pies precious names depending on whatever tribulation — or dream — she’s processing that day, like “My Husband’s a Jerk Chicken Pot Pie,” “Jumping Without a Net Bottomless Pie,” and “Almost Makes You Believe Again Pie.”

Jenna’s forbidden love interest, who happens to be her obstetrician (Drew Gehling), adds the requisite sugar. A decidedly sour note is provided by Jenna’s derelict, abusive husband, Earl (a ferocious Nick Cordero).

Her wacked-out co-workers at Joe’s Pie Diner are the dramatic equivalent of Tabasco Sauce. The hefty-framed Becky (the vocal powerhouse Keala Settle) is a spitfire with a sensitive side. The feisty, pony-tailed Dawn (the comically gifted Kimiko Glenn) is a bundle of insecurities who later finds her self-confidence. Most of the supporting roles add a distinct salty nuttiness, especially Dawn’s obsessive new love interest (Christopher Fitzgerald, who delivers a manic, side-splitting performance).

The stunning set, designed by Scott Pask, features a funky mid-century diner, a dark, dumpy abode (Jenna and Earl’s, naturally), and gorgeous Edward Hopper-esque backdrops.

The Master Chef behind this concoction is none other than Diane Paulus, the director known for such recent hits as “Finding Neverland” and “Pippin.” And yet, even with all these promising fresh ingredients, the result is a bit of a letdown. Sure, it’s tasty enough, but, like Jenna’s pies, I wanted heavenly.

It’s as if Chef Paulus used a heavy duty electric mixer when a few deft strokes of a whisk would have done the trick.

WAITRESS | Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St. | Tue.-Thu. at 7:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. |  $69-$149 at ticketmaster.com | Two hrs., 35 mins., with intermission