A Talk With 12-Year-Old 'Little Prince,' His Sister and Mom

Henry Wager in "The Lion, the Unicorn and Me," produced by the Washington National Opera.
Scott Suchman
Henry Wager in "The Lion, the Unicorn and Me," produced by the Washington National Opera.

From a distance, you could mistake them for tourists checking out the sights at the Kennedy Center—mom, older brother, young sister.

That wasn’t the case, though. They’d been here before.

The boy, with a slightly brighter shade of blonde hair, was 12-year-old Henry Wager, with his mom, Nancy Tarr, and his young sister Naomi, 10.

Wager had just gotten his hair dyed so that he could look a little more like The Prince, or the title role in the Washington National Opera Company’s family holiday production of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince,” composed by Rachel Portman, and originally staged by WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater Friday through Sunday, Dec. 19 to 21.

Wager—and his sister Naomi, who will be in the WNO’s Children Chorus in the production—is a familiar presence by now at the Kennedy Center and the WNO. Last year, Wager portrayed the part of the Angel in Jeanine Tesori’s world-premiere (and very popular) “The Lion, the Unicorn and Me.”

“Francesca asked me earlier this year if I wanted to play the prince, and I said sure, I was very honored,” Wager said. “It’s a lot different from anything I’ve done. It’s complicated, you know. He’s a prince, and he lives on this little planet by himself, and his prized possession, a rose. He’s kind of obsessive about it. And he meets this downed pilot in the desert.”

The family lived in Bethesda, but now live in Cooperstown, N.Y., home to the annual summer Glimmerglass Opera Festival, where Zambello is artistic director. For Glimmerglass, Wager performed the role of Winthrop in “The Music Man" and with the children’s chorus sang in Tobias Picker’s “American Tragedy.” So, Wager is already a fairly experienced performer in the opera world.

He’s thoughtful about “The Little Prince.” “The music isn’t like traditional opera, it doesn’t exactly sound like that, it’s modern, you now, like some American operas.”

Watching him and listening to him and his sister, you see something interesting. The young Wagers -- Henry and Naomi -- are very articulate about music and performing, and yet, there is no sense of self-importance, of being different from other kids. They compete, they talk each other up, they’re proud of each other.

“I want to be in a lead role someday, like Henry,” Naomi offered. “I want to travel to a foreign country.” The production of “The Music Man” traveled to Oman. “You know, the prince is really a kid, he doesn’t understand anything about adults, and he has that thing for the rose.”

“I don’t have any object like that,” Henry said. “We have the cats,” Naomi said. “They’re twins. Maple and Hennepin.”

“You know how he’s different,” Henry said of the prince, “he sees the world in numbers, that’s how he processes information.”

“They were both in the chorus,” Nancy Tarr said. “They work hard.”

“Music is a lot of lessons. I mean lots.And lots of practice.” Henry said.

“They have a normal childhood,” Tarr said. “That’s what I wanted for them. They play sports, they listen to music, they do what kids do. And they do this.”

Henry plays baseball, second base, and he lives in a town, which houses the Baseball Hall of Fame. "It’s cool to live there,” he said. His favorite baseball player Denard Span of the Washington Nationals.

“I listen to all kinds of music,” Henry said. “But I really like listening to movie scores. I love John Williams.”

Naomi currently likes singer Meghan Traynor. “That’s this week she likes her,” Henry said, skeptical. She, of course, likes Taylor Swift. “I liked “Shake It Off” and “Blank Spaces.”

They sound and look just like—still—kids. And they’re wise to it.

Naomi summed it up: “Henry’s got one year left. I’ve got three.”

What’s that? we ask. “Childhood. Henry has one year. I’ve got three.”

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Mon, 24 Apr 2017 15:13:49 -0400

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