The qualifications for the American Idol title that Jordin Sparks earned in 2007 are on full display at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. From the onset of Waitress she enthralls. With her soaring, soul-stirring voice only on full display during a few choice moments of the show, Sparks’ ability to convey a deeply moving story without hinging the integrity of her performance on it is tested.
Sparks is distinctive in the Jessie Mueller-originated role by default. Not only is she just the second black woman to ever don Jenna’s apron, but she is also the youngest principle actress to ever play the role. And it shows, optimally. Sparks’ Jenna hasn’t written herself off yet. This fact alone acts as a catalyst for an extremely ubiquitous change in the relationships between the characters compared to the way they have been played previously.
Ben Thompson’s Earl seems less threatening, and as more of an emotionally unpredictable leech in Jenna’s life. Sparks’ wears the pants in her relationship with Mark Evans’ endearing Dr. Pomatter. Sparks’ Jenna bides her time, waiting for her moments. The aforementioned does not negate the hardships that Sparks helms throughout.
It’s impossible to synopsize Sparks’ performance without delving into her vocals. She sings to score, rarely embellishing. Her voice is an orotund, canorous wail that pierces the hearts of all who witness it. Her slightly nasal texture married to the placement choices she makes on sustained notes is, put quite simply, hypnotizing. Sparks charges through the score with a laudable ease.
Sparks’ gifts, like those of recently-departed Waitress star Colleen Ballinger are an apposite match for live storytelling, and we can only hope that Jenna is just the beginning of her Broadway resumé.