Professional actors Lenne Klingaman and Mark Christine got married in the north woods of Wisconsin a year ago and for their honeymoon they are traveling across the United States with the first national tour of Waitress. Not that they planned it that way.
“We literally had the wedding and then I flew off to New York to start rehearsals two days later,” said Klingaman, who portrays the nerdy and nervous Dawn — a friend of the main character, who also works in the diner and is timidly looking for love. Seven months into the tour, Christine joined Klingaman on the road, as a member of the ensemble and an understudy for two other roles.
“I never try to plan my career,” Klingaman admitted with a laugh. “I just try to make the most of opportunities and take what comes.” In the case of Waitress, the award-winning musical by Sara Bareilles, both actors had luck and serendipity on their side when landing the coveted roles. “I wasn’t even auditioning when I got the part,” said Klingaman. She had been called in to help with auditions for the touring production; a script reader who simply played the part opposite each actor while the production team evaluated the candidates. But by the end of the day, it turns out the team was more enchanted with Klingaman than any of the other actresses who had tried out.
“At one point Sarah Bareilles asked me, ‘Can you sing. . . at all?’ And I said yes! I hadn’t done a musical since college, but I was aching to get back into one of those roles. So then they had me come in and work on the music, work with the director, and I just kept thinking, this is never going to happen. I am not going to get this. And then I did.”
For the first few months of the tour, Christine, who is based in New York, spent a lot of time on the road visiting his new spouse. “I was teaching, music directing and working as an accompanist, and then sneaking out of the city to catch up with Lenne,” he said. Over time he became a familiar face with the rest of the cast and crew, even subbing for musicians in the pit for performances when necessary. Then when a cast member left the show to pursue other opportunities, Christine got the chance to officially join the show.
“The producers had one round of auditions and didn’t find anyone, so I mentioned that my husband was available,” said Klingaman. “He came in and just stole their hearts.” So for the past three months the couple has been reunited on the road.
So what’s it like performing and traveling with your partner? “It’s so different now,” said Klingaman. “What’s fun is getting to explore each city together and also see our friends, who are spread out all over the country.” Christine added, “When you’re on the road, you’re constantly packing and unpacking and trying to make each new place feel like home. When we’re together, it’s so much easier.”
As an added bonus to performing on the same stage each night, Christine understudies the role of Ogie, the goofy but loveable guy who falls in love with Dawn after only one date. So Klingaman and Christine have also had the opportunity to play opposite one another on several occasions, including during their current engagement in Chicago.
“The first time Mark went on as Ogie, we were in Washington DC, and the actor who normally plays that part had a vacation,” said Klingaman. “Our families came down to see it. It was wonderful.” She giggled as she explained, “The characters’ arcs are very different from our relationship. But we did fall deeply in love with each other, so we could draw on that.”
Christine added, “The first time I went on, I had three hours notice. There was a real ‘oh god’ feeling, just hoping to get through it. This time, in Chicago I had more time to prepare and I’m having more fun. I mean, my scene partner is there for me – my wonderful wife. And now I’ve had a few cracks at it in a row, so it’s a little less daunting.”
The couple is especially excited about performing at Overture Center, July 24 – 29, since they have family in Wisconsin. “It’s a special place in our hearts,” said Klingaman. “It feels like home. I’m excited to see what the Madison audience will react to the show.”
For tickets to Waitress, visit overture.org or call 608-258-4141.