SHN’s ‘Finding Neverland’ a team effort for the Hennessy family

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Concord’s Tyler Patrick Hennessy returns home as a cast member of “Finding Neverland,” running at the Orpheum Theatre through Feb. 12th. (Finding Neverland official website photo)

Ask Tyler Patrick Hennessy what San Francisco Giant he’d like to see in the Orpheum Theatre seats at SHN’s upcoming production and he doesn’t hesitate to answer.

“Buster Posey.”

Makes sense. After all, with Tyler’s dad Jesse serving as a high school PE teacher and head varsity baseball coach at Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek, baseball has been around Tyler all his life.

However, when practice starts for Jesse’s team in February, it will be very different. For starters, Jesse won’t be hitting ground balls and filling out lineup cards for his 2017 squad. The life he knew before has been changed completely for the foreseeable future.

That’s because Tyler, a nine-year-old Concord resident and student at Woodside Elementary, after doing just a handful of regional theatre productions in the Bay Area, was summoned to New York City for a follow up audition after submitting a video audition in late September. Nine days later, he was in Buffalo, rehearsing for his new employer.

“Before that audition, I had never been past Arizona,” said Tyler.

After ending 2016 on the East Coast, Tyler and Jesse finally will spend extended time at home with the rest of the family, with “Finding Neverland” making its Bay Area debut on Wednesday, Jan. 18th at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. The musical, based on the 2004 film of the same name, follows young writer J.M. Barrie and his quest to find the courage to become a writer, inspired by the beautiful widow Sylvia and her four sons.

The family, which includes Jesse’s wife Allison and their three teenage daughters, never planned for this. Tyler participating in local productions was fun. But someone who remembered Tyler’s turn as one of the young title characters in a production of “The Who’s Tommy” at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek knew of someone connected with the national tour of “Finding Neverland.” A replacement was needed for the role of the young Michael, and Tyler fit the bill.

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Tyler, as Tiny Tim in Center Rep’s 2015 production of “A Christmas Carol,” is ready to return home for a month to enjoy his bed, Legos and his mom’s cooking. (Photo by Kevin Berne)

The whirlwind was as crazy as one might imagine. The family that lived their daily lives together under one roof now just became all the girls at home in Concord. After receiving a last minute leave of absence from Jesse’s job, dad and son were on the road hitting cold city after cold city.

“It’s definitely been difficult, but my wife is an absolute rock star, working full time in tech and dealing with our three daughters who are active as well,” said Jesse. “It’s tough but we are all proud of Tyler. He’s kind of a goofy, likeable kid, and we all want him to do well.”

And yes, Tyler is certainly doing well, especially for a kid who won the lottery even though he barely entered. After all, Jesse is under the pretty safe assumption that Tyler is the only talent in the show without professional representation. And if Tyler’s contract is renewed after it expires this April, a big decision will need to be made.

“We don’t have an agent, because we were never looking for this to happen,” said Jesse. “We are certainly searching for some kind of guidance, but we understand that this is strictly business.”

That aspect became crystal clear immediately. With such good fortune comes with what Jesse refers to as a very steep learning curve for both he and Tyler. For starters, Tyler is a child that has gone from a kid that did plays after school, attributing his enjoyment of theatre to the many cast members who were nice to him, to a paid employee on a Broadway national tour. With that comes an awesome responsibility for Tyler, as well as the other kids on the tour.

“There are certain performance expectations and behavioral expectations in a show like this,” said Jesse. “The six boys have it tough, from going to school, rehearsing, performing at night, and shifting their sleep schedules.”

At present, the decisions for Tyler’s future can wait, especially because he is home now and can get back to a little bit of normalcy. For the first time in months, the Hennessy family will be under the same roof of their home. Jesse can see other productions that his daughters will be performing in. And Tyler can get back to some other hobbies, like his phenomenal police station he built in one day out of Legos. He’s also fired up about sleeping in his own bed, and enjoying some other benefits of being home.

“I miss my mom’s cooking,” said Tyler. “There’s this ham and potato soup she makes that’s really good.”

The part that’s incredibly weird is that family, many friends and others will see Tyler performing on the Orpheum stage, a theatre Tyler has sat in for shows many times. The Hennessy family are also SHN subscribers and had tickets to “Finding Neverland” before Tyler was even in the show.

That fact alone is beyond surreal for Jesse.

“When I watch the show from back of house, it’s still strange thinking that it’s my son doing something on this scale,” said Jesse. “It’s going to be really strange to see our son on that stage.”

And maybe, just maybe, it will be even stranger for Tyler if he saw his favorite ballplayer in those seats.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

SHNSF presents “Finding Neverland”
Music and Lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy
Book by James Graham
Directed by Diane Paulus
Through Feb. 12th
The Orpheum Theatre
1192 Market St., San Francisco, CA
Tickets range from $55 – $275
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com

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