BWW Interview: Lenne Klingaman of WAITRESS at Peace Center
Inspired by Adrienne Shelly's beloved film and brought to life by an all-female creative team, Waitress tells the musical story of small-town waitress Jenna, who begins to think that a baking contest and a relationship with a new town doctor may just be the recipe for the fresh start she needs.
BWW: Tell us a little about the show.
It is a lovely, heartfelt, beautiful, emotion-filled, laugh-til-you-cry and cry-til-you laugh show that basically follows Jenna, an amateur but expert pie baker, who works in a diner but is not really living her full life, not up to her full potential, not living the life she intended for herself. She's in an abusive relationship and just isn't where she thought she'd be at this point in her life. And after becoming unexpectedly pregnant, and with the help of her friends and old Joe, the owner of the diner, she comes into her own and, through a kinship with her OB/GYN, really finds herself. So throughout the whole show, the theme that runs through multiple characters is the more that they accept who they are and dare to live their full selves out loud and with each other, the more happy and passion-filled life becomes for them. It's a really beautiful journey for all three of the waitresses, and Dawn, in particular, both finds herself and finds love, and you could kind of say that about all three of them.
BWW: That message of being yourself, being true to your real self, seems to be a message we need to hear over and over.
Be who you are, live out loud, love who you love! It's an important and really powerful message that comes across, and I think the show speaks extremely well to people of different ages and different backgrounds and experiences. Everybody walks away having laughed and cried, but it still touches them. It really lasts. It's very beautiful.
BWW: What was your experience with Waitress before you were in it?
BWW: How does it feel to literally follow in her footsteps?
It feels amazing. I came onto her work when I was in high school and saw a film festival of Hal Hartley's work, and she was one of his muses. I fell in love with her acting style and approach to acting, but she also spoke to me because she was an actress I could really relate to. She was unique. She was quirky and funny, but in her own way. And in a day and age where you're fed the idea that being beautiful is the same as being a good actor, I was like, wow, who is this woman? She is so refreshing and still beautiful in her own right, but quirky and really funny and owning all of her humanity and I wanted to be an actress like that. Complex. So I have looked to her my whole young acting life. Going through school, I followed her when she started to write and direct, and was excited that this woman I was looking up to was beginning to tell her own stories. So I was really thrilled about the movie Waitress and just love seeing that same kind of acting style and aesthetic being attributed to her storytelling. I loved the ways in which she did those long slow close-ups of the main character and how she used voiceover. Her dramatic sensibility was a little noir-ish and it just hooked me on the movie, so I was really excited by the Broadway show. And then I heard Sara Bareilles' music! She has a very similar sense of humor to her music but it's so enjoyable and palatable. At its best it's like the number one top charter that everyone listens to and loves, but underneath there's meaning and grit and you can really dig into it. The first song from the musical I ever heard was "She Used To Be Mine" and I just thought, oh my god, this could be on the radio -- which it still is -- but it also tells a beautiful story about a character. Sara really brought her singer-songwriter ability to this theatrical storytelling world, in which you have to lend your pop songwriter sensibilities to a character to develop a story. She does it so very well! It's kind of unbelievable that this was her first time writing a musical.
BWW: Tell us a little about the production.
It is a smaller show in that we are not a big spectacle, but we are very enveloping of these large spaces. We had to think about translating it in rehearsal from the Broadway house, which is not a very large audience size, to houses that are 2 to 3 times as big. We now play to audiences of 2,700, so we have to make sure that the humor -- and also the really touching moments -- will reach the very back row. And we do it in the sound, certainly. So I'd say it's small but mighty, and the stage doesn't become myopic. It's actually very all-encompassing. Our backdrop is a very beautiful overview of the southern Indiana sky, and on stage we have all this automation that comes and goes so we can move very fast through different people's stories. Jenna's is our main, but then we have two other storylines that we are following and that automation really helps us weave the stories together. Diane Paulus, our director, is expert at keeping the ball up in the air so it never has a lull. The audience is taken on this ride where literally we've had people say that within seconds they go from laughing so hard that their stomach hurts to crying, because it turns on a dime and is so real. Our show is really real. It's a musical and that's heightened, of course, but at the core it's very real and very American. People will come and recognize themselves in it.
BWW: The show has some adult themes. What do you think is the appropriate age level?
Everyone needs to make their own decisions for their own kids, of course, but probably the baseline is 12 and up. But we've had super fans younger than that.
Waitress runs May 8-13 at the Peace Center in downtown Greenville, SC. Tickets start at $35. The Saturday, May 12, 2 p.m. performance is designated as an ASL signed performance. For additional information and to reserve seats contact the box office at 864-467-3000 or visit peacecenter.org.