Growing up in Lexington, Hunter Henrickson and his twin sister, Lauren, watched “The Wizard of Oz” and had the same reaction to the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys most kids have.
“They terrified us,” Henrickson recalls. “They’re in for just a short little stint in the movie, but they leave such an impression. They come in and completely disrupt any harmony or safety the four friends have.”
That was more than a decade ago, well before Henrickson discovered theater and decided to pursue it as a career.
Now, the 2012 Tates Creek High School graduate is on stage most nights playing the lead flying monkey as well as several other characters in the “Wizard of Oz” tour that stops at the Norton Center for the Arts at Danville’s Centre College Friday night.
It’s the first national tour for Henrickson, who got bit by the theater bug when a lifelong friend dragged him to an audition his freshman year at Tates Creek. He didn’t get cast that time, but had enough fun to come back and take another shot, getting cast in the ensemble of the spring musical, and he was on his way to a high school theater career.
When it came time to search for a college, Henrickson found the theater program at Northern Kentucky University, which gave him on-stage opportunities, as well as chances to work in Cincinnati-area theater and summer programs in places such as Indiana and North Carolina.
Along the way, he took on numerous favorite roles such as Prince Herbert in “Spamalot,” Richard Hannay in “The 39 Steps,” Kenickie in “Grease,” and the title role in “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
“It was all because my friend said, ‘You’re going to do this, and you’re going to like it,’ and little freshman me said, ‘Oh, alright,’” Henrickson said, noting that said friend, Abbie Betts, is now a stage manager in New York.
Since graduation in 2016, Henrickson was based in Cincinnati before hitching onto the “Wizard of Oz” tour this summer, when it was at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre in Lancaster, Pa., for a multi-week run.
Henrickson’s girlfriend, Kalie Kaimann plays Dorothy in the show, and was on the tour when it started last October at the Lexington Opera House. As a member of the ensemble, Henrickson interacts with Kaimann several times on stage, as the Munchkin coroner who declares the Wicked Witch of the East dead after Dorothy’s house lands on her and as Nikko, the lead flying monkey who snatches up Dorothy and carries her off to the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle.
“I’m the only monkey that’s rigged up to fly,” Henrickson says. “So, when I first come in, they usually throw me 30- or 40-feet in the air offstage, and they usually zip me onto the stage and then I do this slow arc and I land. After that, I fly in and grab Dorothy and fly off.”
When the show stops in Danville, Henrickson says he’ll have a little time to see family and friends, but he’ll have to wait a few more weeks for a tour break before he can go home. The tour is slated to run through March, and then he’ll be looking for a home base — maybe New York — and the next gig. But for now, the Lexington native is enjoying a new perspective on flying monkeys.
“Now that I’m older, it’s a blast,” Henrickson says. “We come on to this crazy music in this fight scene, defeat the friends and tire them out, and that’s when I fly in and grab Dorothy, and take her away.
“It’s so much fun to be kinda like the bad guy. With the monkeys, especially in this show, we’re all very goofy, so we’re not too terribly scary in the stage production, like it was in the movie.”
IF YOU GO
‘The Wizard of Oz’
What: Touring production of the classic musical.
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 26
Where: Norton Center for the Arts, 600 W. Walnut St.