Many may know Antoinette Henry from her natural hair blog, Around the Way Curls (aroundthewaycurls.com), which she runs with her best friend, Shanti Mayers, but Henry considers herself a personality rather than a blogger. She says she has bigger dreams; she wants to pursue a career in theater.
When she’s not blogging, the 25-year-old is a waitress at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at 10 Columbus Circle in Manhattan. The jazz club features performances by singers and musicians. She said that seeing these performances is simultaneously torturous and motivating, and that she doesn’t feel empowered at the jazz club.
“The goal is really to be self-sufficient and not have to wait tables and be able to do what I love,” she said.
When she was a young girl, her grandmother took her on a church trip to see “Ragtime,” which is now her favorite musical. After she heard Audra McDonald sing “Daddy’s Son,” she knew theater was for her.
Henry went to a music magnet elementary school in Philadelphia. She later attended the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, where she performed in a show every semester and was “color-blind cast,” which means race did not play a part in which roles she landed.
“Now I feel like I’m in a little bit of a rut, because I don’t have that success now,” she said, “but I look forward to feeling that way again.”
Three years ago, she graduated from Marymount Manhattan College, where she studied musical theater and theater performance.
After graduating, she had a bad experience with her first agent and ran into problems she never faced in high school or college. When she auditioned for the “Black shows,” she was told she was too fair-skinned. When she auditioned for shows with a predominately white cast, she was told she was too ethnic, too heavy or not heavy enough. “I would like to see a show with an all-Black cast that’s just a show, but not about Black issues.”
Henry says her biggest misconception about the theater business was that talent is all that matters.
“I thought I’d be able to walk into a room and be good and get it,” she says. “It’s not like that at all. It’s sheerly about who’s willing to put in the work.”
On one Thursday night, the Three Crooners took the small stage at the St. Luke’s Theatre in Manhattan. In their black suits, they smiled and performed simple dance moves in unison. However, their talent was drowned out when Henry took the stage.
Henry was the star of this off-Broadway play, “The Wonderful Wizard of Song.” In a royal blue, ankle-length dress, black heels, white opera-length gloves and a classy up-do, she began to sing “Blues in the Night.” The entire theater was silent.
“I think she is absolutely outstanding,” said Ian Hunte, Henry’s friend and coworker of about two years. “I didn’t want to hear anybody else. I just wanted her to keep going.”
Leaning against the wall at the dimly lit club, Hunte admitted that the musical was cheesy, but Henry was the only reason he wanted to continue watching.
Audience members stared intensely at her, nodding their heads when she would hold notes that never seemed to end.
Before seeing “The Wonderful Wizard of Song,” Mayers hadn’t seen her perform in three years. Mayers is not a fan of musicals, so her first thought when the Three Crooners began to sing was, “Oh God.” Despite this, she was proud of her friend.
“Her confidence was just so solid. Her control, her range and her ability was just so impressive,” Mayers said. “She was the highlight of the show. … She was who everyone was talking about.”
She surprised Henry when she traveled from Philadelphia and stayed in New York just for the day to see her friend perform.
“I don’t think that will ever be a problem, even if I’m 3,000 miles away,” she said. “If she has something and I can go to it, then I’m gonna go.”
Although Henry sometimes doubts herself, Mayers is always supportive. “I think she can totally do it,” she said. “I think that beside her talent, she has her ambition, her drive and her network to do it.”