Erika Leigh Henningsen (born August 13, 1992) is an American actor and singer. She is known for her work on Broadway and for originating the role of Cady Heron in the 2018 Tony-nominated musical, Mean Girls, for which she received an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination.
Early life and education
Henningsen was born and raised in Moraga, California. She is the youngest of three daughters born to Phil and Marybeth Henningsen.
Henningsen started in theatre after her parents recognized her love of, "talking and being in front of people," from a young age. At the age of 7, her interest in theatre was piqued after reading the poem, “The Turkey Shot out of the Oven” and hearing the audience's positive response to her performance. When she was 14 years old, Henningsen was cast in a local production of Grey Gardens and has stated in interviews that after performing in this production, she knew she wanted to pursue musical theatre as a career.
She graduated from Campolindo High School in 2010 and then attended the University of Michigan, earning a BFA in musical theatre in 2014. During her undergraduate, she also studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London through the NYU Londonprogram. Henningsen was selected as the sole winner of the 2014 Alan Eisenberg Award Scholarship, an award given to a University of Michigan graduating senior to recognize, "outstanding talent and career potential," in musical theatre.
In 2010 at the age of 17, Henningsen was cast in her first professional production as Penny Pingleton in Hairspray at the Woodminster Amphitheater in Oakland, California.
In November 2014, she made her New York Philharmonic debut as Kim Ravenal in a staged concert revival of Kern and Hammerstein's Show Boat. A live taping of the production later aired on PBS on October 16, 2015.
Later that year, Henningsen starred as Beth in the musical, Diner, based on Barry Levinson's 1982 film of the same name with music and lyrics by Sheryl Crow. The musical, directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, made its world premiere with a sold-out run at the Signature Theatre in Washington, D.C. from December 9, 2014 to January 25, 2015. She remained part of the production and its extended run when it was staged by the Delaware Theatre Company in December 2015.
Henningsen made her Broadway debut as Fantine in the revival of Les Misérables on March 3, 2015. She has disclosed in interviews that she was about to file for unemployment when she learned she was cast as Fantine, which also happened to be the last role she played as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, 11 months earlier. She is the youngest actress in Broadway history (to date) to portray the role of Fantine. She left the production along with fellow Les Misérables co-stars, Ramin Karimloo and Samantha Hill, on August 30, 2015 and was replaced by Memphis star, Montego Glover.
In the summer of 2016, Henningsen portrayed Ensign Nellie Forbush, opposite Ben Davis, in the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera's production of South Pacific.
In February 2017, she appeared in an Off-Broadway staged concert of Jerry Herman's musical, Dear World, as Nina with the York Theatre Company, starring alongside Tyne Daly, Alison Fraser, and Ann Harada.
Henningsen returned to the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera (PCLO) in the summer of 2017, starring as Sophie in the company's regional production of Mamma Mia!. During her run at PCLO, it was announced that she was cast as Cady Heron in the upcoming Washington, D.C. production of Mean Girls.
Henningsen currently stars as Cady Heron in the Tony Award-nominated Broadway musical, Mean Girls, written by Tina Fey with music and lyrics by Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin, respectively. The show had its world premiere as an out-of-town tryout at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. from October 31, 2017 to December 3, 2017 in which Henningsen originated the role of Cady Heron. She was later nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for this role. The musical, which is based on the film of the same name, began previews on March 12, 2018, and officially opened on Broadway on April 8, 2018 at the August Wilson Theatre in New York City. During the weeks surrounding the Broadway opening of Mean Girls, Henningsen filmed a series of video blogs for Broadway.com entitled "Too Grool for School: Backstage at Mean Girls with Erika Henningsen," giving viewers a look backstage and at events like opening night, the cast album recording, and the cast's appearance on The Today Show. The original Broadway cast recording was released digitally in the United States on May 18, 2018 and in stores on June 15, 2018.
As a student at the University of Michigan, Henningsen was the co-president of the Michigan Performance Outreach Workshop (MPOW), a student-run organization with the purpose of bringing performing arts educational opportunities to students in southeastern Michigan to, "foster creative expression, build self-esteem, and strengthen the community." MPOW hosts an on-campus workshop each semester for 130-200 public school students that includes performances by University of Michigan students as well as immersive and collaborative workshops in all arts-based disciplines.
Henningsen has actively been involved with Sing For Hope, a NYC-based non-profit organization dedicated to creating access to high-quality arts education and programming throughout New York City. She serves as an artist partner, teaches classes, and leads workshops with purpose of introducing and encouraging creative expression in NYC children with decreased access to the arts. Henningsen has also participated in events supporting Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP), Artists For Action NYC, and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BCEFA). In July 2018, she attended the 20th Broadway Barks, an annual event promoting the adoption of shelter animals. She also has served as a mentor and held masterclasses for various programs and organizations, such as The Performing Arts Project, Broadway Method Academy, Broadway Workshop, and Exit II Theater.