Lenne Klingaman's reader-to-riches 'Waitress' story

Lenne Klingaman. Waitress. Photo by Joan MarcusFrom left: DCPA Theatre Company favorite Lenne Klingaman, Desi Oakley and Charity Angel Dawson in the Denver-bound national touring production of ‘Waitress,’ opening at the Buell Theatre on Dec. 19. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Denver Center favorite pivots from playing female Hamlet in Boulder to quirky waitress in Denver-bound Broadway hit

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

Actor Lenne Klingaman has one of those incredible stories that will make you say, “Yeah, right.”  

But in this case: Right!

Klingaman’s story starts in an audition room in New York City at the start of 2017. What you need to know is that when an actor auditions for a specific role, the casting director often provides what’s called “The Reader” for the hopefuls to exchange dialogue with. “The Reader” may not be the appropriate gender, age or type, but it doesn’t matter. The reader isn’t the one auditioning. “The Reader” never gets the part.

Lenne Klingaman QuoteScratch that. In this case, Klingaman was “The Reader.” And she got The Part.

Klingaman returns to her adopted city of Denver on Dec. 19 to play Dawn in the first national touring production of the hit Broadway musical Waitress. This follows her triumphant summer turn as a female Hamlet for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder. In between, there was a storybook wedding.

But we digress.

Despite a long list of national credits that includes playing Juliet in the DCPA Theatre Company’s Romeo and Juliet and two roles in the world-premiere play Appoggiatura, Klingaman somehow ended up in the audition room for Waitress as “The Reader” alongside Director Diane Paulus, who was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People On This or Any Other Planet; Curb Your Enthusiasm writer Jessie Nelson; and six-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles. None of them knew who Klingaman was at the time. But as she went about her job reading lines for the actual job-seeking actors to play off, she made an impression.

“After the final day, Diane followed me out of the room and asked if I sang at all,” said Klingaman, who told the influential director that, in fact, she had just released her debut pop album, The Heart is The Hunter. Paulus liked it, Bareillis liked it and, fast forward, Klingaman is now playing quirky Dawn in the first national touring production of Waitress. “I could not believe it was happening,” she says. “It’s been quite a whirlwind experience.”

Video: Lenne Klingaman sings from her solo album:

Klingaman’s roles in Hamlet and Waitress could not be more different, and yet both projects are emphatic expressions of female artistic empowerment. Colorado Shakespeare Festival Director Carolyn Howarth, for one, did not have Klingaman play Hamlet as a brooding man. In this A Midwinter Night’s Dream variation on the theme, the actor was allowed to explore Hamlet’s feminine side, and the result was an unorthodox but universal revelation in part because, The Boulder Daily Camera’s A.H. Goldstein said, “Madness knows no boundaries of gender.”

When the play closed, Klingaman immediately got married. Then she joined the first touring cast of Waitress, which took its pace in theatre history when it became the first Broadway musical to have women as the director, writer, composer, choreographer (Lorin Latarro) and orchestrator (Nadia DiGiallonardo).

“It has been an amazing joy to go from playing someone as intense and complex and dramatic as Hamlet to playing a ray of light like Dawn who looks at the world in a very positive, loving way,” she said.

Here are excerpted highlights of Klingaman’s wide-ranging conversation with the DCPA NewsCenter:

John Moore: What did it mean to you to be given the chance to explore one of the great roles of the canon without having to subvert your own femininity?

Lenne KlingamanLenne Klingaman: It was extremely empowering to work with Carolyn Howarth on a female Hamlet because it opened up this whole range of possibility of what acting can be, and of what women can do on the stage. There was something so freeing about playing a role written for a man. It demanded such a range that I don’t think most women ever get the opportunity to play. Going forward, I am sure I will be wanting to push beyond where the feminine concept seems to end in roles I’ll be playing in the coming years.

(Photo above and right: Lenne Klingaman and Gary Wright in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s ‘Hamlet.’ Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.)

John Moore: Did the unprecedented female gender dynamic in the Waitress rehearsal room make a real difference in the creative process?

Lenne Klingaman: To go straight from Hamlet — which was directed by a strong and wonderful woman, by the way — into an experience where, across the board, they were all women, was pretty incredible. It has been thrilling to be part of that collaborative female vibe. This is an amazing group of women who are creative and decisive and effective problem-solvers. But they also allowed for flexibility and fluidity, and they allowed us to put our own individual stamps on the show.

Our interview with Lenne Klingaman on Hamlet

John Moore: It seems ridiculous to think that it took 100 years for there to be an all-female creative team on Broadway. Do you feel like you’re part of a moment for women in Broadway that is many decades late in coming?

Lenne Klingaman: I hope this trend continues. I hope that people see that stories told by women, that are about women, and that are for women can be successful. Can be universal. And can be really huge hits. They used to call stories about women “chick flicks” in the movies. But stories like Waitress are worthy and valuable for everyone. And it’s valuable to have women at the helm telling them from a different vantage point. It’s not that men can’t tell a woman’s story — but there are angles that might only get bitten into from a female point of view. In Waitress, you’ll see it in everything from the choreography to Sara Bareillis’ lyrics to the way Diane makes the whole story move. So, yeah. I really do feel it.

John Moore: Has Waitress changed to way you look at real-life waitresses?

Lenne Klingaman in 'Appoggiatura,' left, and 'Romeo and Juliet.' Photos by Jennifer M. Koskinen. Lenne Klingaman: I think about how these women have to keep a smile on their faces and keep so much of their personalities submerged during  their interactions with the strangers they serve, and what that can do to a person once they get home. My character, Dawn, definitely suppresses part of herself at work because she’s kind of a turtle when it comes to her personal life. I think it’s important for people to keep in mind that the people who serve them are human beings who have a lot of stuff going on in their lives. In our story, there is a bond and a sisterhood that these three waitresses share.

(Photos above and right: Lenne Klingaman in the DCPA Theatre Company’s ‘Appoggiatura,’ left, and ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ Photos by Jennifer M. Koskinen.)

John Moore: What else can we know about Dawn?

Lenne Klingaman: The amazing part about Dawn is what a rich inner life she has, which you get to see in the second half of the show. She’s a little bit of a nerd and she’s a little bit O.C.D., but there is this beautiful kind of spark in the origin of her quirkiness that comes from a really serious place in her. That’s been a joy to find as an actor, because all of her humor is really full of wonder and positivity.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

John Moore: So how is this story a universal story — meaning for men, too?

Lenne Klingaman: I think it’s universal for the same reason a woman playing Hamlet is universal. What’s happening for these three women is that they’re all at the precipice of taking huge risks so that they can be who they truly are in their hearts. And when it comes to taking a leap into the unknown, and to really risk being your authentic self, your gender is immaterial. That moment of truth crosses any gender line. This is about letting your freak flag fly. It doesn’t matter to an audience whether you are a man or a woman. It’s pretty fun and sexy and daring for each of these women to take the risk, and I think that will be extremely enjoyable for everyone to watch.

John Moore: What place does Colorado have in your life now after having spent so much time here?

Lenne Klingaman: I feel like Denver has become a home away from home, and I am so excited to come back. And I’m really excited to be coming back with this show because of the light and life and joy that it brings. When we sing Everything Changes and we take our final bows, it is a communal and beautiful and joyful moment — after an entire evening of laughing your butt off. I’m really excited for Denver and Colorado to get to feel that in this moment and at this time we’re existing in. This show will remind you of the true beauty of humanity.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

waitressWaitress in Denver: Ticket information
Inspired by Adrienne Shelly’s beloved film, Waitress tells the story of Jenna — a waitress and expert pie-maker who dreams of a way out of her small town and loveless marriage. A baking contest in a nearby county and the town’s new doctor may offer her a chance at a fresh start, while her fellow waitresses offer their own recipes for happiness. But Jenna must summon the strength and courage to rebuild her own life. This is an uplifting musical celebrating friendship, motherhood, and the magic of a well-made pie.

  • National touring production
  • Performances Dec. 19-31
  • Buell Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
  • Tickets start at $25
  • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    Selected NewsCenter coverage of Waitress:

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