Kyra Kennedy, part of the Waitress tour ensemble and understudy Jenna, spoke at the Playhouse Square, where the tour made its debut.

Tell us about yourself. 

I grew up in a very small town in Oklahoma and have parents that were incredible in letting me spread my wings and supported me a million percent in following this dream. They both are heavily involved in the arts and my mother is a fantastic pianist. I grew up in our community theatre rehearsals watching them both and it just made sense to pursue it and I felt so comfortable in my skin there.

When Waitress was auditioning for American Repertory Theater (ART), I was in callbacks and knew immediately that it was a special show. I also knew someday I’d be in it. I just had a feeling. The music, the material, the dream of it all really resonated me since the moment I encountered it.

You are a Baldwin Wallace University alum – are there any particular aspects of your college experience that prepped you for this opportunity? 

Yes! I did not come from a background that knew a lot about music theatre schools and going about auditioning for them. I happened to have a voice teacher who was in love with the school and by design, I did as well. BW prepared me so much as a musician – I’m confident learning sides and audition songs because of that training. The connections it allowed me to make have been so incredibly valuable.

This nationwide tour opens at Playhouse Square. What excited you most about starting off in Cleveland?

Oh gosh! I had such a rush of emotions – I was excited to be back in an area I knew and loved. I love Cleveland so much – the memories, the food, the spirit. It’s a really special place. Not to mention the Indians were amazing!

This story is well known to many thanks to the popular 2007 movie starring Keri Russel. As an actor bringing the tale back to the stage, is there something that the stage version provides to (either you as an actor or to the audiences) that the film version did not?

Absolutely – Sara’s music is otherworldly. It adds such a personal and beautiful and heart wrenching quality to an already poignant and beautiful story. Her music blossoms.

The music and lyrics of Waitress drove a lot of publicity towards the musical’s creation and opening on Broadway. Can you speak to how Sara’s musical style leads to the theater and this piece?

Sara is able to capture humanity in her songs so well. The lyrics, the music, and even the background vocals are so specific and intentional and really have such a character. I feel so lucky to be able to sing her music. I hope this isn’t her last musical – I think she is such an intelligent writer.

The circumstances around the lead character of this musical creates the opportunity for the audience to take away some interesting life lessons. Which message of Waitress speaks to you the most?

The strength a woman can have when she is empowered. Jenna has 2 amazing friends who love imperfectly and aren’t your typical, archetype of a character. The characters in this show are flawed which helps us as an audience see ourselves in each of them. Especially in this political climate, I think it is so important for audiences across America to see a story of a woman that becomes her own champion.

Out of all the productions you’ve been involved in over the years, how does this production of Waitress stand apart?

There is nothing like it. In my career thus far, this was a turning point. I’m thankful to start this chapter and to be able to say I was a part of this extraordinary diner.