Addison — “If you hear any swearing that’s just me, I’m driving in traffic!”
Five o’clock Denton-to-Dallas traffic is probably the worst time to ask someone their life story, but Whitney Hennen, star of WaterTower Theatre’s upcoming Sweet Charity, was more than happy to chat. Her excitement bubbled over the phone as she raced from work to a dance rehearsal. Her life is about making all the happy elements work together, which has also been the story of her career.
A born and bred Texan, lifelong Denton resident and ,ember of her high school drill team, Hennen went to college with the intention of becoming a dance teacher. She grew up dancing and singing, but the idea of doing theater never occurred to her until after graduating from the University of North Texas. After discovering how dance and theater went hand in hand, and how much she enjoyed that marriage, she began auditioning. She landed her first role in Pippin at Denton Community Theatre.
In 2011, she landed what she considers a surprise role in Uptown Players’ Victor/Victoria as Norma Cassidy. The show wasn’t critically acclaimed, but the stunner was Whitney. Critics loved her. She was voted a D Magazine Critic’s Favorite and hailed as the “happiest theatrical surprise” that year.
“I hadn’t really done that much yet. I just went in thinking I might get an ensemble role. I was very surprised to get that part,” she says with fondness.
Her performance garnered attention around town, as most agreed that she was the standout of that production. In 2012 she returned to Uptown in another great role, Ulla in The Producers, proving to audiences and critics alike that she was no one-hit wonder.
Hennen has been grateful to grab some good roles, but she also loves the ensemble. As we spoke, Sweet Charity was only in its fourth rehearsal. When asked if it’s hard with her background and training to take choreography from another dancer, she gave an adamant “No.”
“Dancers know how dancers work,” she says. “I love being a part of someone else’s vision, to help it come alive. And as a teacher it’s fun for me to get to learn from someone else.”
We talked about musical theater, and how integral dance is to the progress of the show. She truly does love being a part of the story. For Hennen, dance is the medium to tell it.
“I’m a dancer first. The choreography is my favorite part,” she adds. “I don’t think the ensemble members get enough credit. They work so hard, they move the show along. We are all telling the story together.”
She couldn’t have chosen a better show to flex her muscles, either. Sweet Charity is the story of Charity Hope Valentine, a New York City dancer-for-hire. It is a more hopeful version of Federico Fellini's 1957 film Nights of Cabiria, a drama about a prostitute looking for love. With music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, book by Neil Simon and direction/choreography by Bob Fosse, the show debuted on Broadway in 1966. The original production starred Fosse’s wife, Gwen Verdon. One hit from the show, “Hey, Big Spender,” is one of Fosse’s most memorable sequences. In 1969 the musical, also directed by Fosse, was adapted for the screen and starred Shirley MacLaine.
Hennen certainly has some talented shoes to fill.
In addition to making a name for herself in Dallas theater, Whitney is also a teacher. She was once full-time, but the time commitments made it less enjoyable for her. Now she teaches preschool in Denton and works as an on-demand choreographer for Coppell High School, which she loves.
“I’m so truly lucky. They have such a great program and the school is just wonderful. I really love working with these kids. Maybe someday I will go back to it full time, but for now this is what I enjoy.”
And if acting and teaching weren’t enough, Whitney just crossed a major item off her to-do list: a wedding. On June 6, Whitney and her partner of almost six years, Sara Bollinger, were married in a ceremony among family and friends. (Cue the song “I Love to Cry at Weddings” from Sweet Charity.) Almost three weeks later, an opportunity presented itself for the couple: on Friday June 26, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Whitney and Sara discussed getting a license.
“We were hearing that they were turning people away and we just didn’t want it to be like that for us,” she says. “We wanted it to be something exciting and wonderful.”
The following Monday Whiney had to work, so they decided to get to the courthouse when it opened. They ended up being first same-sex couple in Denton to receive a license.
“We didn’t intend it, we just happened to be first in line!” she says with a laugh.
A good friend came to their apartment, watched their wedding video and listened to their story before marrying them. Surrounded by their parents and a few other family members, they were married quietly in their home. It was a lovely, memorable day, but June 6 will be their anniversary.
“That was our big shebang!” she exclaims.
A wedding and landing a “bucket list” role, as she describes it, make for pretty exciting times. With each new show she loves learning more about the different theaters in Dallas. She’s no stranger to musicals, and she does have a few dream roles in mind.
“Roxie Hart in Chicago and Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls! I would love to play those roles someday,” she says.
For now, Charity is a dream. She had her eye on the role and wanted to audition as soon as she saw it posted. With such a short turnaround (the show begins previews July 24, opening July 27) she is ready to really get to work. She’s busy, but it’s a happy, wonderful life. Her voice a buzz of elation, she describes how lucky she feels to be doing this job.
“I know this summer is going to be one I remember for the rest of my life.”
» Ticket giveaway: We have several pairs of tickets to give away for the 8 p.m. performance on Friday, July 31. To be entered to win them, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put SWEET CHARITY WHITNEY in the subject line, and your name, number and address in the body of the email. You have until 11:59 p.m. Monday, July 27 to enter; we'll notify winners on July 28.