The New York City-born actor is thrilled to portray his character in a show emphasizing women’s empowerment.
By Alice Burdick Schweiger
Featured photo by Scott Martinez
Richard Kline, best known as the neighbor Larry in the 1970s and ’80s sitcom Three’s Company, is starring as the owner of Joe’s Diner in the musical Waitress, playing at the Fisher Theater from May 7-19.
“I had to learn a slight Southern accent for the role, and I am from Queens, New York,” says Kline, who joined the road company last December.
“The show is set in a small town in the American South.”
Waitress, based on the 2007 film written by Adrienne Shelly, tells the story of Jenna, a waitress and skilled pie-maker trapped in an abusive marriage. She finds herself pregnant and dreams of a way out. A baking contest nearby offers her a chance to move away and rebuild her life. Joe provides encouragement for a new beginning.
“In the show, I am Jenna’s support and I can easily relate to that because I have a daughter myself,” says Kline, whose daughter is 35. “For me, the fatherly instinct is easy to portray.”
Kline’s five decades of acting began after earning an undergraduate degree from Queens College in New York, an MFA in theater from Northwestern University and serving three years in the military, including two years in Vietnam. He acted in college and graduate school but made his professional debut in the Lincoln Center Repertory Company in 1971. He went on to perform in regional theater and made his Broadway debut in the show City of Angels in 1990. He was in the national touring company of Wicked and stood by for Nathan Lane in a show called November. He also starred in the one-man show Boychik Off-Broadway.
Among his more than 75 television credits are Gilmore Girls, Judging Amy, That ’70s Show, NYPD Blue, LA Law, Mary Tyler Moore, Maude and The Americans. He’s been seen in almost a dozen films including Barry Levinson’s Liberty Heights. He also directed Noel Coward’s Present Laughter in Los Angeles, where he won the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Direction.
He became part of sitcom history when he landed the role of Larry Dallas, Jack’s friend and smarmy upstairs neighbor on Three’s Company. “
It was a dream working on that show,” says Kline, who keeps in touch with co-stars Joyce DeWitt and Pricilla Barnes. “I started in a one-shot guest appearance as the upstairs neighbor. I guess they saw chemistry between John (Ritter) and myself because that led to a five-year deal — and a few years after that. It was truly like a family. John led the parade with his humor and graciousness, and it rubbed off on everyone. It was a terrible loss when he passed away.”
Kline, who grew up in a Reform Jewish home, attributes his desire to become an actor to his family. “My sister is three years older than me and she studied ballet. Seeing her dance made me want to perform,” Kline says. “My father had wanted to be an actor during the Depression, but he had to help out the family and instead became a tradesman. My mother was a bookkeeper with a beautiful voice. They both loved the arts and that had a big influence.”
Born and raised in New York City, Kline moved to Los Angeles in 1976. In 2005, he moved back East and, about seven years ago, began teaching a drop-in acting class in Manhattan.
Kline says he’s looking forward to coming to Detroit. “It’s one of the places we will be stopping for more than a week — it’s a two-week run,” he says. “I am hoping to explore Detroit and even go up to Ann Arbor and visit my friend Vincent Cardinal, chair of the musical theater department at the University of Michigan.”
Meanwhile, Kline hopes when the audience walks out of the theater, they will be uplifted. “There are a lot of people who were or are in a bad relationship and can relate to Jenna,” he says. “But the show has a happy ending. Here is a girl who breaks free from an abusive, unhappy marriage — and it’s very empowering. It’s all about female power, and that’s a good thing.”
Adrienne Shelly’s Legacy
Waitress, the Broadway musical, was inspired by the movie written, directed and starring Adrienne Shelly, whose birth name was Adrienne Levine. Raised on Long Island, N.Y., her father, Sheldon “Shelly” Levine, passed away when she was young and, as a tribute to him, she took his first name as her stage surname.
Sadly, Adrienne was brutally murdered Nov. 1, 2006, by a 19-year-old undocumented Ecuadorean construction worker working in the same building as her Greenwich Village office. She was survived by her husband, Andy Ostroy, and her then 2-year-old daughter, Sophie.
Ostroy established the Adrienne Shelly Foundation, which awards scholarships, production grants, finishing funds and living stipends to artists. In her honor, the Women Film Critics Circle gives an annual Adrienne Shelly Award to the film that it finds “most passionately opposes violence against women.”
The movie Waitress, which also starred Keri Russell, Cheryl Hines and Nathan Fillion, was released posthumously in 2007. The musical Waitress officially opened on Broadway April 24, 2016. It starred Jesse Mueller with music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles.