Actress Whitney Hennen plays the girl unlucky in love in ‘Sweet Charity,’ but in real life she and wife Sara Bollinger are a storybook couple
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
Charity Hope Valentine is the girl who never finds love. That’s the plot of the musical Sweet Charity. But for Whitney Hennen, who takes on that role in WaterTower Theatre’s new production of the show, that’s just a character she plays onstage. In real life, she’s happily married to her partner, Sara Bollinger.
Hennen has impressed critics and audiences in supporting roles before, but being the lead in Charity is a huge production for her … perhaps only upstaged by her marriage. She and Bollinger had their 15 minutes of fame late last month when they became the first same-sex couple to obtain a marriage license in Denton County. (More on that later.)
This summer has been a turning point for Hennen personally. She’s appeared in numerous shows around the Metroplex, including Victor/Victoria (for which she won a DFW Theater Critics Forum award) and The Producers for Uptown Players and Nine for Lyric Stage … usually playing a kind of particular character.
“I don’t mind playing a dumb blonde,” Hennen slyly declares. “I do not get upset when people typecast me. I’ve done Mel Brooks, and I love comedies. I think they’re fun and light. But it’s exciting to stretch my wings here, which I’ve never done before.”
Getting cast in the role was huge, and reunited her with The Producers director Michael Serrecchia. It’s also required a lot out of her.
Hennen knows something about that can-do attitude. When marriage equality became legal nationwide on June 26, many local clerks offices throughout the country resisted complying initially. Hennen and Bollinger, who live in Denton County, knew their local clerk wouldn’t be issuing licenses on Day One, and frankly, they were more concerned with celebrating the decision together, not waiting in line at a government building.
“The county clerk was turning people away [that Friday],” Hennen says. “We were watching it on Twitter.”
They decided to hold off applying until Monday, June 29. They had no idea what would happen. That’s when it became a matter of “right place, right time.”
“We went up there and we weren’t sure how many people would be there. But we were the first ones,” Hennen says.
Their license was officially issued at 8 a.m., making them Denton’s first legally-licensed same-sex couple. And the media descended on them.
“We kept thinking, ‘Why do people care about us?’ I was more excited for the couples who had been together for decades,” Hennen says. “But it was really nice. We have been together for five years, but this was really our chance to start our lives together.”
Bollinger was most gratified by how normal it was. “It felt like it should feel,” she says. “We could walk in there like anybody else and get married like anybody else. We got married, we went on our honeymoon, we got our license, we made it official. It was mundane.”
“I didn’t feel like it was mundane!” Hennen corrects. Well, not mundane, Bollinger agrees — but “normal.” Not special rights — equal rights.
Marriage did not sneak up on them, but its legality sort of did. They had been planning their wedding for a year; then they learned earlier this spring that the Supreme Court would decide its constitutionality. They didn’t let that fact change their plans, though: They proceeded with the exchange of vows on June 6 in the garden area on the campus of Texas Woman’s University surrounded by 120 guests. Local stage director Cheryl Denson officiated. Even though the ceremony wasn’t legally binding at the time, they never considered traveling to a jurisdiction where same-sex marriage was already legal.
“We had already decided we weren’t going to go out of state — if we had, we would have come back to Texas and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway,” Hennen says.
But when SCOTUS ruled in their favor, they welcomed the opportunity to make it official. And for the same reason they didn’t wed in, say, New Hampshire, they were equally determined to obtain their license in Denton.
Their roots as a couple and a family are there. They met when Hennen was in the acting ensemble and Bollinger was playing bass in the band for Music Theatre of Denton’s production of Chicago in 2009. Hennen’s entire family lives there; her father even plays in an acoustic band with Bollinger.
“As we started to date, Whitney’s family sort of became my family,” Bollinger says. “That was a big reason we decided to put down roots there.”
“We love Denton a lot — it’s really fun and up-and-coming with lots to do, and we live right off the square,” Hennen says. “It’s fun for us to come into Dallas when I am doing a show. We sometimes talk about moving here, but then we drive back and say, ‘I’m so glad we live in Denton.’”
Though their license is dated June 29 and was officially sanctioned on July 3, Bollinger and Hennen still insist their wedding anniversary is June 6 — “the day we paid all the money for,” they joke. Just a few weeks later, in fact, they can’t even remember the other dates.
“I had no idea the date we got the license. I would forget the 29th; I planned for the 6th for a year,” Bollinger says. Hennen echoes that.
“I was so happy to be surrounded by so many friends,” she says. “It’s such a cliché, but it really was the best day of my life.”
Charity Hope Valentine would never be so lucky.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 24, 2015.