Actress and singer/songwriter Lenne Klingaman currently stars as the lovable Dawn in the national tour of Waitress. Michigan blogger, Stefanie Pohl, spoke with Lenne about her previous acting experiences, the lessons she hopes audiences will take with them from the show, and what kind of pie she would be.

When were you first introduced to the story of Waitress?

I was first introduced from knowing Adrienne Shelly’s work. At a young age in high school, I was taken to a film festival by Hal Hartley, and she was a muse of his as an actress. I fell in love with her acting style and her ability. I followed her career, around when I started acting, when she was making and writing her own films. When I heard about Waitress, I was really excited about the making of it. I heard of her passing before I saw the movie. It meant so much for me to see her create her own work as a woman and direct and star in it. It turns out that I am playing the part that she created and originated. That means the world to me, because she originated this kind of comedy for this type of character.

The character of Dawn has the opportunity to bring some of the biggest laughs in what can otherwise be an emotional show. Can you describe the character of Dawn and where you find you get the biggest reaction from the audience?

I like to think of Dawn as a very sweet, loving, kind, quirky hermit. She’s a little bit of a nerd, a little OCD, but fiercely loving to her friends. She kind of retreats into her little turtle shell. She loves turtles, she loves history, the Revolutionary War Enactments – the things she loves, she loves fiercely. She often retreats to those things alone in her own world, and her friends draw her out of that world. That brings a lot of the comedy. In the course of the show, she attempts to find love and partnerships, and she does in the most unexpected of places. The biggest, most joyful laugh, is the scene with Ogie where she really tries to refuse the connection that’s there, and he’s persistent. By the end, there’s a true connection over similar interests that shocks even her. The turnabout is so satisfying for the audience.

You are a singer/songwriter as well as an actress. How has that impacted your approach to this musical, with songs from fellow singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles?

My career has been mostly straight plays and a lot of classical work, but I have always sang. My father is a folk and rock musician. I grew up going to band rehearsals in San Francisco. I helped him record albums from a young age and then recorded my own album just a couple of years ago. My path after grad school, where I went for acting, led me away from music and theater and more to straight plays; the music stayed separate. It was wonderful to create my album, but it felt very different from acting, although both are storytelling to me. It was really exciting to get to join them together again. My last musical was about 10 years ago, so to join them together in “Waitress” where the music is by another singer/songwriter, I know the vibe of the music. The heart and soul of it speaks to me, not just as an actor, but as a musician. Both sides of me identify with how this story is told.  I know the voice of the character through Adrienne Shelly and my acting, and I know how the music should feel and sound through Sara’s world, too.

You recently starred as Hamlet in “Hamlet,” and have also appeared in other Shakespeare works. How has the departure from classical plays to a pop musical been for you?

The last show I did was Hamlet, so I had about three weeks between them. In those three weeks I got married, had one day after the wedding, and then flew straight to New York to start rehearsals for Waitress. For me, I love acting for the range of abilities and versatility, so I don’t like to act in just one mode. I loved getting to play Hamlet; I’ve never stepped into a male role like that. It was so freeing and confidence-boosting. To step into a musical, it’s like starting over, but in a really exciting way. It was like the year of challenges for me in the best of ways. I like to do things that challenge me. They always start off as scary, but then you realize the similarities between them. I like to say that Shakespeare is heightened language, so these characters can’t just speak in verse; they have to speak in poetry. And it’s the same in a musical when a character can no longer speak in dialogue; they have to break into song. A solo song is very much like a soliloquy or monologue in Shakespeare.

What do you hope audiences take away from Waitress, and how has the reaction been?

We’ve really found that people see themselves in the characters. A lot of young girls will say, “I am Dawn!” We also meet a lot of people who see themselves across all three waitresses. In seeing themselves, they go along with the journey of these three women daring to take the risks to be their full selves. People are encouraged to dream, dreams they didn’t even know they had – daring to dream and then living out those dreams. I think people are overcome with that emotion of “yeah, I can do that,” and then feeling the joy of finding that. It’s not always about finding the guy, even though Dawn finds her life partner; for Jenna, it’s about finding herself and her joy in her daughter’s eyes. I hope people are encouraged to take the risks to find their joy.

In Waitress, Jenna comes up with elaborate pies to describe herself or her current situations. If you could create a pie to describe you, what would it be?

It would probably be a pie take on a crumble, because that is my favorite dessert. Lots of mixed berries stewed down, including rhubarb because it’s a little spicy-sassy. And then with a crispy, oaty crumble in there. That’s what I would be: a little sweet and sassy.