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Bringing her act home

From day to day Nina Hennessey doesn't know who she's going to be. But tonight, she'll be coming home to St. Petersburg to be herself for one night.

It's not that Hennessey has a multiple personality disorder; it's just that she's a versatile performer.

The New York actress, who attended middle school in St. Petersburg, is what is called "the swing" in one of the biggest Broadway musicals in years, Les Miserables. That means Hennessey might be called on to play any of eight full parts or four lesser roles on any given night.

"Basically, I do all the women in the show except for the principal parts," she said during a recent phone interview from her apartment on New York's Upper West Side. Hennessey has been doing this for six days a week (eight performances) since joining the cast in June 1987.

But for a change of pace, the 34-year-old singer/actress is going to appear in concert with composer Marvin Hamlisch tonight at St. Petersburg's Bayfront Center.

It will also be the first time Hennessey has performed in the Tampa Bay area since her days at St. Petersburg's Riviera Middle School when she was taking dancing classes from Judith Lee Johnson.

Hamlisch and Hennessey got together several years ago when Hamlisch was working on a Broadway show. Though the show never materialized, the two did strike up a work relationship.

Hamlisch does about 35 guest appearances each year. When he's making plans to go on the road, his manager gets in touch with Hennessey to see if she can appear with him. Hamlisch's scores have won music's biggest prizes: the Academy, Grammy and Tony awards and a Pulitzer Prize. He has written the music for A Chorus Line plus the themes for such movies as The Way We Were, The Spy Who Loved Me, Same Time Next Year, Ordinary People, Sophie's Choice, Ice Castles and Three Men and A Baby plus the theme music for Good Morning America.

Though Hennessey loves performing in Les Miz and is excited about Debbie Gibson taking over the lead female role, she said performing with Hamlisch is "her vacation."

Besides playing piano solos in orchestral arrangements of his own tunes, Hamlisch creates pieces of music on the spot. Members of the audience call out a title or subject, and he weaves

these ideas into an extended improvisation.

"I think that any concert should be more than what you have already done, more than what you can hear on records," he said in a recent Los Angeles Times interview.

Hennessey will be singing pure Hamlisch, including One Song, which he wrote for a People's Choice awards show. She will also sing a medley of songs that include They're Playing Our Song, Falling and the theme from Ice Castles.

It has been more than 20 years since Hennessey called St. Petersburg home. Her family lived here when her father, now a retired Air Force colonel, was stationed at MacDill. Tours of duty in Egypt and Bangkok kept the family moving. Her parents, Blair and Mitzi Hennessey, now live in St. Petersburg, and this weekend will be a family reunion.

After graduating from the Academy of the Washington Ballet, Hennessey enrolled in Barnard College of Columbia University. She made her debut at New York's Playwrights' Horizons and has had her share of good roles ever since. She has appeared on Broadway in Rag Doll, Dreamgirls, Snoopy, Woman of the Year and Annie.

Hennessey never leaves Manhattan except on a tour or to visit her parents. Otherwise, she spends "as much time as possible" with her 2{-year-old daughter Madeleine (who was born on Bastille Day, July 14, 1989, to the delight of the Les Miz cast.)


Academy-award winning composer/pianist Marvin Hamlisch, in concert with vocalist Nina Hennessey, will perform at St. Petersburg's Bayfront Center Mahaffey Theater at 8 tonight. Tickets cost $27 and $28 and are available at the Bayfront Center Box Office and all Ticketmaster outlets.