Oakton High School
Two love-struck girls plus one womanizing man equals a recipe for disaster in Bullis School’s recent production of Henry, Sweet Henry. When teenagers Valerie and Marian bump into experimental composer and notorious philanderer Henry Orient, they make a pact to follow him around New York City, pestering him until he accepts their love. All kinds of trouble find the girls as they pursue their dream man.
Based on the novel and movie The World of Henry Orient, Henry, Sweet Henry was turned into a musical with book by Nunnally Johnson and music and lyrics by Bob Merrill in 1967. With only 80 Broadway performances, the show remains an obscurity despite a mostly positive audience reception.
Jonas Hosmer brought confidence and charisma to the titular role of Henry Orient. Whether seducing one of his many mistresses or conducting an avant-garde silent orchestra, Hosmer’s comedic timing and command of the stage kept the audience engaged and laughing.
Likewise, Siena McKnight shone as the love-struck young Valerie Boyd. From the first moment she scampered on stage frantically looking for her shoe, McKnight consistently demonstrated buoyant energy and physicality. She embodied the naïve teen with animated facial expressions and showed the contrast between giggly schoolgirl in “Henry, Sweet Henry” and vulnerable child in the tender “Here I Am.” McKnight’s chemistry with Valerie’s best friend Marian Gilbert (Rachel Sita) was evident throughout the show, as the dynamic pair romped around the city following Henry. Meanwhile, her relationship with her father (William Evans) showed a softer side in “Do You Ever Go to Boston.”
Cammie Honesty was also a standout as the hilarious, melodramatic Stella. Afraid of being caught in an affair with Henry, Honesty garnered many laughs as she hysterically decried her concerns and slinked around stage in a scarf and sunglasses to hide her identity. A comically theatric audience member at the concert hall, Honesty’s dependably animated expressions were noteworthy even when she wasn’t in the forefront of a scene. Additionally, Maddie Mancusco brought energy to the mean-girl role of Kafritz. The tough-as-nails schoolgirl delivered powerful vocals in “Nobody Steps on Kafritz” and strong leadership and energy in the ensemble number “Poor Little Person.” As Valerie’s wealthy but distant mother, Sydney Smith was grounded and believable, her authoritative performance taking an amusing turn upon meeting the womanizing Henry.
A strong ensemble kept up the show’s energy and 60s vibe, whether in beehive half-updos and white stockings as in “Academic Fugue” or the colorful hippie attire of the unexpected “Weary Near to Dyin.” “Poor Little Person” was a standout ensemble number thanks to the company’s coordination and energy. As the concert hall audience, the ensemble’s attention to detail while frozen in a plateau enhanced the scene’s humor.
Enormous sets creating the New York cityscape, schoolyard, phone booths, and bedrooms were moved seamlessly by the stage crew (Raphy Conrad, et al.) The integration of crew members as city street sweepers, combined with the orchestra’s music, made scene transitions smooth and pleasant. Although slight issues with enunciation and music volume occasionally made some actors louder than others, body mics were used well without any microphone feedback, and sound (by Lucia Vasco and Jack Honeycott) was exemplary.
While the lives of the characters were upended in the show, Bullis School’s boisterous cast and efficient crew created a thoroughly enjoyable, unique production. Chock full of comedy and peppered with deeper themes of friendship, parental love, and the struggles of growing up, the Bullis production of Henry, Sweet Henry unearthed a hidden gem of musical theatre.
McLean High School
In some little world filled with bright color, lively music, and teenage fanaticism, “Henry, Sweet Henry” takes audiences on a wild romp through New York City. The Bullis School has delivered a production that is both sincere and full of life.
“Henry, Sweet Henry” is a little-known piece of theatre based on the novel and subsequent film, “The World of Henry Orient.” With a book by Nunnally Johnson and a score by Bob Merrill, the show was first produced on Broadway in 1967, running for just 80 performances. Merrill’s combination of musical styles, including golden-age theatre and 60s pop music, produces a show that is both traditional and innovative in nature. The story follows Valerie Boyd and Marian Gilbert, a pair of fourteen-year-old misfits, who form a true friendship through their mutual love for Henry Orient, composer and notorious ladies’ man. The two girls center their lives around the smarmy philander, who wants nothing to do with them, all the while dealing with insufferable mean girls and navigating family struggles.
Siena McKnight portrayed Valerie with youthful physicality and wide-eyed optimism, earnestly proclaiming her love for Henry at every opportunity. Her vivacious attitude and consistent energy aided in showing her character’s development and growth throughout the show. As the title object of her affections, Jonas Hosmer possessed a confidence that suited his character well. Commanding the stage with a suave glance, Henry’s wild antics were enjoyable and humorous to watch.
The cast of characters was filled out by engaging supporting actors. Rachel Sita’s Marian Gilbert had a sweet and believable dynamic with her best friend Valerie. Shining as the conniving bully Kafritz, Maddie Mancusco combined her strong vocals and commanding presence in her song “Nobody Steps on Kafritz.” The musical’s other antagonist, stern and often absent parent Mrs. Boyd (Sydney Smith), contrasted other exaggerated characters with her more subdued manner, showing her snobbishness in each of her scenes. Her husband (William Evans) was the opposite; his caring nature and loving relationship with Valerie was a highlight. Stella (Cammie Honesty), Henry’s high-strung lover, thoroughly entertained in her paranoid attempts to hide from her husband; her spot-on comic timing consistently brought laughs from the audience.
The large ensemble of “Henry, Sweet Henry” gained in spirit as the events of the show unfolded. Remaining committed throughout their many scenes, their movement and coordination was admirable whether they played aloof aristocrats, lively schoolchildren, or free-spirited hippies. In a hilarious tableau as the wealthy attendees of Henry’s Carnegie Hall concert, their haughtiness was almost tangible. The ensemble stood out in “Poor Little Person,” an upbeat number that was a definite highlight of the show.
Vibrant set pieces created the atmosphere of 60s New York City, and were smoothly transported around the stage to suggest varying locations. Though some transitions ran a little long, the large set pieces were effective in setting the scene and providing a whimsical mood. The challenging approach of using many body microphones was executed very well by the sound crew; each actor was consistently audible.
Bullis Theatre has taken a musical not known by many and made it their own. “Henry, Sweet Henry” makes you laugh while it warms your heart.