OutNebraska sat down with Hennessy Winkler (he/him) to talk about his life as an actor and how his transition opened new doors for him. Winkler plays one of the leads, Will Parker, in the current tour of Oklahoma.
This tour sees the classic show through a different lens, all without changing a word of the original text. The producers have also reimagined what the cast looks like, casting two trans actors in lead roles. Oklahoma! will be at the Lied Center May 10th and 11th (see below for a discount code exclusive to OutNebraska supporters!)
Q: How did you get started in theater?
A: I saw a Broadway show when I was four years old. I didn’t know whether I loved it or not, and I thought it was weird how grown ups were dressed up in costumes but I eventually realized that I would be doing this for the rest of my life. When I was young I played Little Drummer Boy and it kind of started from there.
Q: How did you decide you want to become a professional actor and what was that journey like?
A: It’s been very tumultuous, kind of like a relationship. It’s always been a focus for me and kind of like a lighthouse in the storm of life. It’s always been a calling for me since I can remember. It’s always been a part of me, and I’ve been doing it for so long and I’ve had the opportunity to do things that are important to me. I’ve been fortunate to have opportunities that meant something to me whether it was paid or not. You get gigs here and there that pay and you get some that don’t, and then you get a gig like this one which takes care of you for a year which is beautiful. I’m enjoying being taken care of for a year, then I’ll find another one when this is over. Being on this tour is very affirming for me in the career path that I’ve taken and I hope that it’s the beginning of bigger things. I had to start my career all over again a few years ago when I started physically transitioning, so that’s been a wild wide as well.
Q: What has this new adaptation of Oklahoma meant for you?
A: I’ve always really loved golden age musicals and since I’ve been a kid I’ve been struck by song and dance, and costumes and fancy sets. Like did he just do that? Or did she just say that? All these dark twisted themes regarding women and sex and gender and murder and suicide and you name it – these golden age musicals have these themes woven in and you don’t always remember that because of the way they’re presented. It’s like it’s written for two audiences – one who wants to remember that and one that doesn’t. Our director Daniel had a fascination for that and tilted it on its axis so he wasn’t changing it, just changing the staging and the perspective so you see this storyline that’s often forgotten. You really focus on the lyrics and the text in a way that I never did with Oklahoma!, and I’ve known this musical for years.
Q: What is your favorite part of this show?
A: Anytime Benj is on stage – Benj is one of the other actors who plays Aly – I’m never bored watching him and I watch him every single night. I love many different parts on different nights. I love getting to do ‘Kansas City’ – that’s my big song and dance number. I love getting to do songs with Sis. I love getting to do the dream ballet – it’s more of a modern dance. These characters are incredible. I truly love my cast and I’m so honored to be sharing a space with them.
Q: What has been the most challenging part of bringing this reimagined show to life?
A: It’s a little bit like flexing a muscle, because there’s a constant line of tension and it’s hard to keep that going. But part of being an actor is keeping that tension going. Keeping it fresh is a challenge but it’s part of the fun too and we work hard together to do that every night for each other and for the audience.
Q:Is there anything you want to share about being a trans actor that has been impactful or memorable?
A: I got called back for Ado Annie [a character in Oklahoma!] early in the 2010s and I loved that role, and now getting the role of her boyfriend a decade later and being part of a production that I love is full circle for me. I was so afraid of transitioning for so long because I’m an actor so I didn’t, but as soon as I did it clicked. If you’re a trans actor and you want to transition, I say go for it. For me it was helpful to bite the bullet and do it. I was worried I wouldn’t get the work but now I have the biggest role of my life.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! is at the Lied Center on Tuesday, May 10 and Wednesday, May 11. Both shows are at 7:30pm. OutNebraska supporters can get $39 best available tickets to either performance using the code PRIDE39 when they check out online, by phone at (402) 472-4747, or in person at the Lied box office. Tickets are available here: https://www.liedcenter.org/event/oklahoma
Synopsis of the show: “How is it that the coolest new show on Broadway is a 1943 musical?” says The New York Times. This is OKLAHOMA! as you’ve never seen or heard it before—reimagined for the 21st century, and now the Tony Award® Winner for Best Revival of a Musical. Funny and sexy, dark and jolting, “this production shocked me and moved me. Direct from an acclaimed run on Broadway, OKLAHOMA! “lets us experience Rodgers and Hammerstein’s greatness anew.” (The New Yorker).
Note: This production of Oklahoma! is recommended for ages 12+.