“Excuse me, are you on ‘Orange Is the New Black’?”
Kimiko Glenn is not a household name (yet), but the beauty of being part of Netflix’s groundbreaking, delightfully bold, downright badass cult favorite prison drama is that she surely is a recognized face — even to a young French tourist, who has approached Glenn as she sits having banana bread and peppermint tea on a recent weekday morning.
But Netflix fame has come as a total surprise to Glenn, who is making her Broadway debut in “Waitress,” opening this week. “I always had my sights set on Broadway, it was always the thing I wanted to do,” she says from the Blue Dog Kitchen, blocks from the Brooks Atkinson Theatre where “Waitress” opened this week. “It’s funny because as a kid, I never connected the dots — I just thought being an actress was being on Broadway.”
Glenn, who wouldn’t reveal her age — “I’m not old, I’m not young,” although Internet sources claim she’s 26 — grew up in Phoenix, singing along with Celine Dion records and memorizing Broadway hits by age five. “I knew the recordings of every show, I knew everything going on with every show, for as much as you could with the Internet being what it was in the Nineties,” she says.
She headed East to attend the Boston Conservatory and right before school started, she went to an open call for “Spring Awakening.” Seven months later, midway through the semester and in the midst of the interview process for a barista job at Starbucks, she got a voicemail from an unknown number. “It said, ‘Hi, this is Carrie from “Spring Awakening”’ — I was expecting her to say ‘Hi, it’s Starbucks!’” Glenn says. “From Boston I took a train to New York and then I went on tour with ‘Spring Awakening,’ so I ended up leaving school.”
She wound up on Netflix’s breakout original series in a similarly pinch-worthy moment. “I was watching the show, I was halfway through maybe the fifth episode, and I was thinking ‘Man, this show is so cool, these women are killing it, wow, I would love to be on this show,’” Glenn says. “Then I click out of Netflix and there’s an e-mail from ‘Orange Is the New Black’ casting sitting in my inbox. I thought I was seeing things.”
Her long-awaited Broadway turn began a year ago, when she auditioned for the production. “Waitress” brings to stage the 2007 Keri Russell-helmed film about a pregnant waitress in the deep south who dreams of escaping her deadbeat husband and winning a pie-baking contest. It is done for theater with a score by five-time Grammy-nominated pop singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles. “She knows how to write a song,” Glenn says of Bareilles. “Usually when people in the music industry are getting into more musical writing, it’s great music, but in the structure of the show it maybe doesn’t work. But it’s amazing, she writes music that forwards the plot.”
Glenn speaks about the theater like…well, someone who’s been preparing for this moment since childhood Celine Dion singalongs. “I didn’t even think television or film would be part of my trajectory,” she says. “But for me to be on stage after three years of being on the Netflix show, and for me to be making my debut, I’ve had so many ‘freak-out, pinch -me’ moments.”