By Kevin Merrill
As kindergarten classmates in 2006, Henry Seifried and George Mancy probably did more play acting than most kids. Twelve years later, the senior duo prepares not only to graduate, but also to end theatrical careers more entwined than any students in Ottawa Hills history.
The pair have appeared in 11 OH productions together. Later this month, they have the leading roles in “Newsies” (April 26-28). George plays Davey, the so called “brains” of the striking group of newspaper carriers. Henry plays Jack, the leader of the strike. Both expect the final curtain on Sunday to be emotional, considering friendships formed and the finality of the moment.
The pair’s contributions are unique in many ways. Not only have they gone to school together since kindergarten, but they have appeared in some of the most memorable shows in Ottawa Hills history. For example, both had key roles in last spring’s performance of “Les Misérables,” considered to be the district’s most Broadway-like show ever. And both were part of the stage crew for “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” earlier this year, which set ticket-sales records.
Their contributions have had a memorable impact on many individuals, but none more so than Darrin Broadway, the high school English teacher who also serves as the artistic director of OH theater productions.
“As actors, they are so talented and dedicated. While most young actors bring a great deal of the pathology of a talking-head culture with them on stage, George and Henry are able to break down the mind/body duality,” said Mr. Broadway. “They are not just imagistic, but also dramatic, and their art is not only ravishing to look at but also so very humorous.”
“They are great leaders. They have inexhaustible capacity for work,” Mr. Broadway said
Evolution of their careers
Neither comes from a family of actors, nor were their “backstage parents” sending them to extensive singing and acting lessons starting a young age. There was, however, a natural draw to the limelight. The pair, along with former OH student Reed Gnepper (Reed is graduating from the Cincinnati School for the Arts this spring; he has been accepted at Julliard), formed Forte Trio while still elementary students, a singing group that performed national anthems throughout the region. (The group even had their own Twitter account: @ForteTrioBoys.)
Henry and George both had voice lessons from the same teacher, and both attended musical theater workshops at Interlochen in northern Michigan. But most of their singing, acting, and dancing talents have been honed while working in OH production with Mr. Broadway and vocal music teacher Donna Wipfli.
George’s first time on stage was in 2011 for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” “Darrin got all the elementary kids to come and audition. I was only in fourth grade so I was one of the youngest,” George said. “It was cool because I looked up to the seniors, At that time, I never thought I would actually be out there as a senior myself.”
His first speaking role came through chance, when the student playing Linus in the spring 2014 production of “You’re a good man Charlie Brown” dropped out of the production. “I was already in the ensemble and Darrin had to recast some of the roles,” George said. “He called us all in and we sang. He pulled me into the prop room and said, ‘We want you to be Linus.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my god, really? And I’ve never looked back.”
For Henry, the breakthrough came in the fall 2014 production of “Oliver.”
“I was part of the ensemble and what I remember most was how much fun I had. I was just expecting to do this one show then maybe another, depending upon what the experience was like,” he said. “But after Oliver, I said I like this and I want to stick with it.”
“After that show, I had a sixth sense that I wanted to do more of this and to keep pushing myself,” Henry added. “And then the Acting Out Productions started and ‘Willy Wonka’ was the first show. And I tried out and got the lead role. That sparked the whole future for me.”
They first appeared on stage together in 2014 in the ensemble cast of “Oliver.” It would be the first of 11 shows in which they appeared together, including next weekend’s production of “Newsies.” No year was quite like 2015, when they had significant roles in three productions: “Willy Wonka JR” (winter 2015), “Grease” (spring 2015), and “Twelve Angry Jurors” (fall 2015). Other shows in which both appeared are “Godspell” (spring 2016), “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (fall 2016), “High School Musical” (spring 2017), “Young Frankenstein” (fall 2017), “Les Miserables” (spring 2018), and “Next to Normal” (fall 2018).
During a production, they estimate that each spends between 20 and 30 hours a week at rehearsals. As time-consuming as theater is, the duo still find time to sing as members of the vocal group The Choraliers. Henry also plays soccer for Ottawa Hills.
Both came of age in the district’s theater program before the arrival of Acting Act Productions, the program focused on younger students. Acting Out involves students in grades 4-8; before its arrival in 2014, younger students appeared in shows, but shows were not produced specifically to highlight their skills. Today, George and Henry serve as mentors/coaches to the next generation of OH actors by volunteering time with Acting Out, helping students during rehearsals as well as during the offseason by teaching them how to speak, sing, and move on stage like an actor.
When the final curtain comes down and the after-parties end for “Newsies,” they will spend the next month focused on final exams and preparing for the next “stages” of their life. George has committed to studying business administration at Miami University; Henry is deciding between studying computer engineering at either Indiana University and the University of Cincinnati.
While not majoring in theater may seem a surprise, both expect to look into community theater opportunities at some point as adults.
Both expect their final moments on stage to bring a flood of emotions. Not only will they be seeing family in the audience, but both their sisters -- Claudia Mancy (10) and Elizabeth Seifried (10) -- are in the ensemble. (Henry’s parents are Jennifer and Todd; George’s are Monica and Nick.)
The impact of Les Mis
Both cite the spring 2018 production of “Les Miserables” as the show that has left the deepest impression in their careers. The production’s scale and execution, its iconic songs, its Broadway pedigree – it was as if the decades of progress and achievement in the theater program had all been building toward presenting that show.
“I was attracted to the character Marius. who is basically a lover type and also the leader of the rebellion,” Henry recalled. “I just have this connection to Marius. And when the show was announced, I immediately knew I had to go to for this role.”
“Some of the biggest memories from that show were working with the younger students in the rebellion scenes at the barricades. Some were doing theater for the first time and I came to feel as if I was their leader both on stage and off. And so when I sang ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,’ it was emotionally hitting for me because I felt as Marius did. That these friends were gone and that I should be, too, but that somehow, I had cheated death.”
For George, the Les Mis character of Monsieur Thénardier was similar in comedic power to that of Igor he performed in “Young Frankenstein.” But he could play the Thénardier role “looser” and improvise more. “I had a lot of fun because of how much fun the character is to play,” he said.
“Les Miserables” was also the final show for many of their theater friends and fellow students.
On April 28, the cycle repeats itself, as George, Henry and the other seniors give their final bows surrounded by the friends who acted and supported them over the years. “It won't hit me until it's actually over,” said George.
“I've been thinking it about lately as well,” said Henry. “With ‘Les Mis,’ I was bawling. There are a lot of friends I had like Christian Sandelin who were seniors and people I looked up to. It was hard to say goodbye to them. And they were sad because it was their last show. I’m certain it’s going to be very emotional.”
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