BWW Interview: Lenne Klingaman is Dawn in National Tour of WAITRESS
Sugar, butter, flour! Sara Bareilles' musical WAITRESS opens at the Saenger Theatre tonight! It's about a young woman named Jenna who works at a bakery and is trying to figure out her life. She's in an abusive marriage, finds out she's pregnant, and it forces her to take a look at what she really wants. With the help of her best friends, an unexpected romance with a doctor, and a pie-baking contest her future starts to look a whole lot brighter.
Lenne Klingaman plays Jenna's quirky friend Dawn, who works with her at the bakery. Although Lenne has been a classical play performer for the past ten years or so (most recently she was seen playing Hamlet in HAMLET at Colorado Shakespeare Festival), she is excited about making her national tour debut with WAITRESS. She is no stranger to the show as she was a reader at auditions for the production at A.R.T. for the show's pre-Broadway run and then again in New York City for the Broadway production, and she now gets to be in the show eight times a week. Keep reading to hear from Lenne about her career, the difference between Shakespeara and musicals (more like similarities in her eyes), and what she hopes audiences will take away from this production.
How did you first become interested in pursuing musical theatre as a career?
Funny you should ask, because this is my first foray back into musical theatre since grad school, which is a ways back. I started doing musical theatre, and actually before that I did music with my father who is a folk rock musician since way before I was born. I grew up in a house with musicians and a studio and recorded backup vocals with him when I was... oh man... probably eight? Music has always been in my life, and my first play ever was DAMN YANKEES. I did a lot of musical theatre in my younger acting training life, but out of grad school went down the classical theatre path and did a ton of Shakespeare. I love Shakespeare, and basically for ten straight years I did that, and kept trying to be able to come back and do a musical or something like that, and it just never quite worked. I'd get a Shakespeare ingénue role, and was like, "Ahh I have to go do that!" But then, in the midst of that I missed music so much that I ended up making an album with my father and my husband... not my husband at the time, but now he is. That's an album of basically storytelling because it's covers, a couple of originals, and things that just speak to me. That is how I did all of that. Then I worked at A.R.T. [American Repertory Theater], Diane Paulus' theater, doing a heightened language classical play, and that's how I got on her radar. I was a reader for WAITRESS, meaning I helped with the auditions both in LA for the A.R.T. production and then in New York when I moved to New York. Diane pulled me aside and was like, "Do you sing? Do you sing at all?" I said, "I have this album." She listened to it and then the rest is history.
That's so interesting! So did you ever have to audition, or was this just an invitation to do the show?
I did have to audition. It was an invitation to audition. We have people in our cast who are from the Broadway production. Since I helped as a reader... I helped with casting in New York largely for big musicals... I was a reader for FROZEN... I got to see these stunning athletes of vocal productions. But, the material itself spoke to me so much, and also singing Sara Bareilles' songs, which is kind of something that... you know, it's basically singer/songwriter stuff... beautiful, pop, a little bit of a folk edge to her vocal stylings. It all just sort of fell into place, so then I went in and I actually got to have some quality kind of private coaching time with the casting office, and then Sara herself and Nadia [DiGiallonrdo] worked with me on the songs, and we had so much fun. It was one of the most amazing... it was a process, it was a long process, and they believed in me. It was a really great opportunity.
What has it been like to go from doing classical theatre for so long and then all of a sudden jump into a musical? It's different ways of acting... it's different ways of speaking even.
That's a great question because the project I was doing three weeks before WAITRESS began was HAMLET, and I was playing the role of Hamlet. I was speaking "to be or not to be," and it was a big change. But, kind of also a welcomed change because I've always been an actor who likes to not have favorites. I want versatility in my life, I want diversity in storytelling, and to stretch my muscles and do things I didn't know I could do, and challenge myself. Getting to play a part originally written for a man was definitely that. But, then getting to go to a Broadway musical and sing Sara Bareilles songs, and being an incredible character actor role of Dawn was so welcomed to leave the Dane behind, who I loved playing, but it was such a different tool set to use that I really kind of needed it... needed the brighter side of life after playing Hamlet. So, switching into Dawn... I just love this character. I grew up watching Adrienne Shelly in the independent films that she was in, but then also she was a muse of Hal Hartley. I fell in love with her approach to acting and humor. She's very quirky and so I, at a young age, thought that kind of acting as something I looked up to greatly, especially a female who does comedy a lot. Going into Dawn felt like an old friend that reminds me of my quirkiness and my humor. It's been very fun. But, to really answer your question... I actually find that musical theatre and Shakespeare or heightened classical language are similar in that we all have these solo songs which are like soliloquies... and you burst into them suddenly because your character no longer can just... dialogue isn't enough. The character has all this to say, and basically you either burst out into heightened language that's a beautiful solo in Shakespeare when you're talking to the audience, or in a musical often singing to the audience. They have similar emphasis. I actually find them actually more similar than like a contemporary play.
How did you wind up actually playing Hamlet in HAMLET?
It was crazy! Right out of grad school I actually did... my first professional show was RICHARD III with Bartlett Sher. Bartlett Sher is an amazing musical theatre director on Broadway, and he also loves the classics. I learned a lot from working with him on that as my first show. He was a mentor to me during that time. And then I just continued it. Shakespeare's language and text spoke to me. I'm a literature lover, too, so the analysis of the text and the time period and history around his plays grabbed me. I just didn't stop. I played Juliet four times. Then I kind of grew wonderful relationships with companies such as, where I played it, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and they believed in me. I worked with amazing directors, and the director Carolyn Howarth had this idea that she wanted a Hamlet, but she didn't want to do the same HAMLET that everybody's done. She wanted a woman to play Hamlet, and she wanted it to be a woman on stage. They called me to audition. They had known my work... I played Isabella in MEASURE FOR MEASURE there. I could not believe it. I was like, "Oh you don't want me. I'm petite, very curvaceous. I look like a woman." I kind of assumed it would be a pants role and they would want a lanky kind of androgynous look, but I put my all into it, fell in love with the audition and the language. They cast me, and it was a really cool, productive, and successful experiment. A lot of young women who saw it were like, "Oh my god, I could do that!" I think the biggest thing that the director and I were interested in was like when a woman says the words that are intended for a man because we know that in classics, but also in contemporary works, I feel that parts are so limited to very gendered versions of humanity and we're seeing that challenged across everything from who does what on stage to what does it mean to be this gender to transgender on the stage and let's really show the diversity of what gender actually means. This was challenging that kind of gender identity that women experience the feelings of beauty and loyalty and revenge and betrayal and the darkness that Hamlet goes through. It was cool to just see and get to be a woman portraying that because rarely do I or other actresses get that opportunity. That's kind of how all that happened.
So let's get back into WAITRESS. What's the story and how does your character fit into this plot?
Certainly. We follow Jenna, who is stuck in a life and marriage that not only doesn't suit her, but is abusive and repressive to her nature. She's not, at the beginning, necessarily struggling to get out of it, but there's something in her that really is struggling and trying to get out. Through the course of the show, with the help of her best friends, one of them is me Dawn, and Becky, they encourage her to just take risks, ask questions about her life, ask herself what she wants. She hasn't done for herself in many years. And then with the news that she's pregnant, it throws her whole life into kind of an upheaval, and she meets a doctor who challenges her notion of what a relationship can be. We basically see Jenna, as well as her two best friends, come out of their shells and really dare to be their full selves however messy, as we hear in "She Used to Be Mine," and complex that might be. We as humans... it's not just black and white. We all have passions and desires and love that... I don't know, don't always work for cookie cutters, but are unique and melding like a pie. That's kind of the gist of it, and where my character really falls is that she, too, goes through a journey. I like to think of Dawn as a turtle herself... she loves turtles... and, she, I think, retreats and hides and doesn't trust that anyone would really see her or love her for who she really is. She hides those parts of herself, and her friends, including Jenna, encourage those parts of her to come out. There's this message of just love who you love, dare to be who you fully are. It really just resounds throughout the whole show and through my character as well.
I know you said you were a reader for the show previously, but did you get a chance to see it on stage before you were cast?
I had obviously seen the movie because I was a big Adrienne Shelly fan already. And then as a reader I actually saw a lot of iterations of the text and the songs before they were even done at A.R.T., which was really cool. I remember hearing "She Used to Be Mine" and being like, "Whoa, that is amazing! That's gonna be a hit!" Then when they asked me to audition, I think I auditioned once and then they were like... Sara Bareilles was currently playing it on Broadway... and they were like, "Go see her. Go see the show." And so I went in the middle of my audition process, and I got to see what it was and see how the whole thing worked and how my approach to Dawn might fit in that. It was really cool, but I remember being like, "Oh my god, I could be in this!" Totally terrified, but totally excited.
Have you done a national tour before or is this your first one?
This is the first of this kind of tour. I did a couple of productions where you'd stop for... I actually did one in D.C., which is where we are now... I did a show for nine months where we stopped. So basically two months in Costa Mesa, California and then in Berkeley, California and then we came over and did it at Shakespeare Theatre in D.C. for close to two months. We kind of hopped around. I've been in a long-term sweet love affair with a cast, but never quite the one-week stop, travel on your day off, and get to a new place. That has been a new journey that I'm getting used to.
What are some of the challenges you face on tour having to uproot every week?
A lot of us jokingly, but not so jokingly, say the beds and the pillows because your whole week can be defined by an uncomfortable bed. But, also, you know, we started our tour right as winter hit, and just like lived in winter for probably longer than if we'd have just stayed home. We seemed to chase winter. Now that it's getting nicer, it's kind of... I've never had allergies, but I'm suddenly dealing with that change of weather. Vocal health is a definite challenge, and something you really have to watch depending on if you're going to a humid state or you're going to a dry state or staying in a hotel that's going to blow A.C. at you all night. It really is challenging because you can't necessarily control your environment within the week, and just as you get settled, you change. It's a good practice in letting go and being zen and going with the flow. But, it's also super exciting to explore the country and, even though it can be tiring at times and we have long travel days, it's really neat to get out in the cities when we have a little bit of time if we don't have rehearsal for a new cast member or something... to go and explore the neat things about that small city or that big city depending on where we are.
What message do you hope the audience takes away from this show?
The one that just gets me so much, especially playing Dawn, is love who you love, which includes not just like that person who you adore and are partnered with like Dawn and Ogie, but also like... love yourself for who you really, truly are. Love those parts of you that are the gray area, because if you love that part you will go out into the world and I guarantee someone will see themselves reflected back at them and love you for those parts. Dare to be who you really want to be and who you really are.
To wrap us up, this is just a goofy one. If you were a pie, which kind would you be?
I think I would have... so I love a crumble because it's like a sweet. And then I love a really tart. I think I'm kind of like sassy and sweet and a little spicy. I would probably do like a rhubarb mixed with maybe strawberry and cranberry, and then a really delicious oatmeal crisp on top.
YUM! Come out and see Lenne in WAITRESS beginning tonight at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans. Visit http://www.saengernola.com for tickets and more information.