The Green Room: Erika Henningsen

A brand-new show based on the life of entrepreneur Joy Mangano will have its world premiere on December 7th. Opening at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center in New Jersey, Joy the Musical will feature none other than Mean Girls actress Erika Henningsen in the title role. With a cast including several Broadway alums, this definitely looks like the show to watch.

The uplifting true story is about one woman’s triumphant climb from divorce to single motherhood and bankruptcy, to becoming the wildly successful dynamo that all started with the invention of the Miracle Mop. Movie lovers will recall that Jennifer Lawrence played the title role in 2015 earning her an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe. Could a Tony be in Erika’s future? Only time will tell.

Erika has a special place in the hearts of Academy of the Arts students. Last July she led a masterclass at our Impact Musical Theater camp and we wish her luck as she brings Joy to theatergoers this winter.

In real life Erika couldn’t be more different to Cady Heron, the character who earned her a Critics Circle nomination when she originated the role in Mean Girls: The Musical on Broadway. Rather than trying to destroy people like the most popular girl in school, Regina George, she loves to build them up by offering master classes around the country.

We asked her how she landed the role and why she loves to teach.

“When I was called back for Mean Girls, I was told they wanted to hear a pop song from Cady, not a song from the show,” she told the enthusiastic class in a Q and A session. “So I thought about what song a girl who was brought up in Africa with parents from the Sixties would pick. Someone sweet, intense and strong so I picked the Rolling Stones Ruby Tuesday and You Don’t Own Me.”

Erika explained that being chosen for a show is like being a puzzle piece.

“All of the Plastics were four inches taller than me, so I looked more vulnerable standing next to them,” she said.

However, today the trend is more like anyone can sing any role.

“Don’t feel bound to certain things because of what you look like,” she said. “There’s more out there for you.”

For Erika, teaching is a labor of love.

“It’s the thing I do in between being an actor and it’s just as much a part of my identity,” she said after class. “It helps me think on my feet and problem solve. It helps me stay alert.”

Erika was impressed not only by the talent in the classroom, but how quickly the students became supportive of one another despite the wide range of age and experience.

“At the end of the day, whether you’re in 12th Grade to college age or first grade to sixth, the basics still apply,” she said. “The incentives may be greater for 12th graders, but sixth graders generally show less fear and they can learn from each other. Everything has to come from joy.”

Erika brings a huge amount of positive energy to the room.

“It’s just about getting them up on their feet,” she explained. She believes the worst thing she could do is to stop a child who is off key or who loses their way in a song.

“If you put ideas in their head they’ll never come back,” she said. “If I only have each one for six minutes, I want to give the most I can out of that experience. If we harp on about what they’re doing wrong or lacking in, they will never build confidence to turn up in class. I always encourage them so they don’t quit before they’ve started.”