A Memoir of Jess Hendy and #HendyNation(t)

I wish that I could explain how a show gets written because even after working on Wendy’s Shadow for almost two years, I still don't know how all of this stuff works. Everyone and their mother and their mother's baby daddy has tried to write a Peter Pan musical where Neverland is heaven or a seedy night club or it's some busted girl in her backyard with her cousin hauling her around on a tire swing and she's singing “I Gotta Crow” while she's living her life. Anyone? Okay, that was only me. 

WAIT, how did I meet Jess Hendy?! Okay – hopping out of the #vortrex and keeping it moving.

The Birth of a Shadow (#WenteesChateau #OBC #Wait #NewMusicalTheatre)

After I helped to write a score for a show out in Rolla, Missouri, David was still bugging me about writing a Peter Pan musical. That's when I fell in love with J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan and Wendy.

Our question for Wendy’s Shadow, what we needed to investigate, was: Why was Wendy so willing to take an adventure with Peter but he couldn't return with her? Was she really the mother? Or was she his first crush? And is Peter Pan an asshole because if he really liked it, then he should have put a ring on it? Or are they just kids who want to play and have fun and go on an adventure? 

So, we began to write a song for the Lost Boys called 'GIVING UP ON GROWING OLDER' as a Lost Boys soul-pop power ballad group number with a knee-pop, flag wave, and formation shift. Our first draft INCLUDED THE LYRIC “Lose all your fiction, don't care about diction, when Peter returns in the blink of an eye, we'll take to the skaaayyyayyyay.” THAT WAS MY LYRIC. That was my lyric that I fought with Dave for at least twenty-five minutes about. 

Presently, “Giving Up On Growing Older” has lost the fiction, the diction, has been chopped, re-chopped, re-written, recorded, presented a million and one times and it's one of the best songs I've ever written in my life. And it took me over a year and a half to get it right, get it tight. Patience. Is. A. Virtue? Tried it. 

So, the note for lyricists who are working solo-dolo as a composer/lyricist or in a writing team, be willing to compromise. I'm not saying you shouldn't fight for your lyric or your art or your passion, but you should be willing to say “Yes. I will try.” or “Fuck, that's not working, I need help.” Writers live very lonely lives. As a twenty-six-year-old recently single gay man who has no kids, no credit (Sorry, Kohl's card), is in a lot of debt because I wanted to pursue my B.F.A (#bfheeyy) in Musical Theatre, and also am the gayest of uncles and even a godfather, I have F.O.M.O. I want to be involved in all the things but it's just not possible. As my girl, Nicki Minaj, would say, “I'm a human beeeeiiiiiinnnggg…” 

Our Debut At Volume Two (#LyricistProblems #PutThosePiecesTogethrr #HendyWendy)

I was introduced to Jess Hendy by my friend Morgan Assante and Mike Schwitter at the local watering hole New York Beer Company (#nybc #newtwerkbeercompantree #andruiz <3) and we hit it off. 

Cut to: Putting The Pieces Together Volume 2 at 54 Below and there’s Jess Hendy. Reminder: before then, I had met Jess Hendy one time. One fucking time. I had no idea that she would be singing in that concert. I knew that she was an actress but I didn't have her resume, her credits, nothing. Yet, Jess Hendy manages to be one of the coolest people I've ever met in my life. I enjoy her friendship as much as I enjoy that voice. And when Jess Hendy gets up to sing, that voice is flawless. And she's stunning. I was in awe of Jess' acting, her voice, her talent. 

I'd probably met Jess about three weeks before and she comes up, takes out her hand and says, “I don't know if you remember me… Your music is beautiful.” So I replied, “Of course I remember you. You're Jess! We just met. And thank you!” And here's another lesson for you actors or #acctnrrts:

Ain't Nobody Got Time To Remember Your Name #justbenice #truthhurts

My actors of the world. I wish, I sincerely wish that I could remember everyone that I run into and everyone that I think is talented. But why don't you guys have business cards? Why don't you have something that I can pull out and go, “Hey, yeah, that's you!” Why aren't you interested in me as a person? Jess was. There is a lot of bullying in the theatre community and acting is the place to work out those issues. However, you want to be upset with me because your name is Sean and I called you Steve and you can barely pronounce my name? Try me not. It doesn't make you a bad person. It doesn't make me a bad person. It's just the nature of the beast, unfortunately. In this industry everyone is so busy, everyone moves so fast, we forget that acting is an art form. Singing is an art form. Dance is an art form. Doesn't that require sensitivity to the human condition? DAYUM. WENT DEEP! Be kind to me and I might remember your name for next time. Or that act of kindness will make me ask for your name because a memory is worth more than a title. A moment lasts forever. As actors, writers, musicians, whatever, we should be striving for connection and not attention or even affection. (#lyriciststruggles)

In The Hendy/Wendy Audition Room

Okay, back to Wendy’s Shadow. So we decided not only was the spin gonna be that Young Wendy Darling would not be a mother, she'd be a Lost Boy, we added in another Lost Boy (Nibs) who was a girl, we had two Lost Boys, Smee became a woman playing a man, and then we added in Mama Wendy Darling, a single mom who was coping with the loss of her daughter, Jane, and telling her daughter the story of Neverland to deal with her emotional unrest. “How do you let go?…” became one of our themes and we wrote a kick ass opening number (WHICH IS SO #CRRT, you don't even know) with a chorus that goes a little something like this. 

ENSEMBLUH: “How do you let go of the one you love the most, coming close to breaking down. I need to be here while she disappears, it's near a world without Jane….”

So, we played Jess a couple of tunes – we were so tired of seeing all the Slightlies, Curlies, Nibs, Hooks, Smees of the world, we were finally ready to cahst OUR LEAD, who had maybe…. three songs. The opening, a short diddy in act one, the act one finale, and the closing. And all the BOOK. That's what I mean, kitchen fucking sink. As a writer, you need to find an actor who's willing to put in the work, to help you discover who this character is so you can write better material.

Please, #HendyNation, Benanti Me. Please

And that's what I mean by Jess saying that she Laura Benanti'd us. Jess has worked with us on every incarnation of Wendy's Shadow that we've been fortunate enough to produce. From the first reading to a concert of Wendy's Shadow at The Cutting Room to our debut at NYMF to Jess Hendy yelling at the NYMF closing night party, “BEST PUPPETS… WENDY'S SHADOW” and to our most informal table read. Jess Hendy recently worked as a swing for the Spring Rockettes Spectacular thing, and I'm not diminishing anything Rockettes because those legs for days are where it's at, and I've literally seen the Christmas one at least five times but one day at a bar she says, “Where are my new songs? Where's my eleven o'clock number. I'm totally gonna Laura Benanti you.” 

Jess Hendy, you can Laura Benanti me any day. Any day. I would write a million songs for you. I watch her in rehearsal and she's always the sweetest and funniest and most playful. Any time I see Jess, I smile on the inside. I have laughed with her and cried watching her perform my material and have gotten to share some intimate moments with her. I know that Jess Hendy is a phone call away, a message on Facebook away, a thought away. Anytime I write on her wall or tag her in something, she's the first to respond. That woman takes such good care of the theatre community and has been so kind to Dave and me. Thank you for bullying me (and I speak for myself) into writing a part for a strong woman. 

Wendy Darling is a role designed for an ahhhhhctress, a chameleon, a woman that has to relive her hurt in order to learn how to let go. It could be Adele Dezeem, Lea Salonga, Stephanie J. Block, LaChanze, Mandy Gonzalez, it doesn't matter. It could be anyone. But, I'm glad it's Jess Hendy because sometimes you need to be a great mother in order to bring truth into a role about a girl who longs for adventure who grows to be a great mother. 

Also, Jane isn't dying anymore. THANK GOD. #spoileralrrt

I have auditions for Wendy's Shadow with a local community theatre in Jersey and I don't know that I'm ready to let Hendy Wendy go. 


Actors, if you think that you guys grieve when a show is done, imagine how a writer feels when their muse disappears and they have to hope that the material is strong enough to be carried by someone else. I don't know if I'm ready to lose Jess to this production but I'm willing. That's what a producer/writer/creator has to be. We have to be willing, we have to be unselfish, and we have to mourn our muses in private otherwise our TAHHLENT CRUSHES get out of control. I have a huge talent crush on Jess. 

One of my favorite lyrics I've ever written in my life is one of adult Wendy Darling reflecting on a moment where she watches Peter try to grab her younger self's hand. “Love doesn't feel like flying at all. It's more of a neverending fall…” Cheers to Jess Hendy. I wish there were more women out there in the world like her. 

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