Louie Henri

Louie Henri (1884-85, 1885, 1888, 1889, 1890-91, 1892-93, 1894-98)

[Born Paddington, London 12 Apr 1864, died Surbiton, Surrey 2 May 1947]

Louie Henri, real name Louisa Webber, first appeared on the London Stage at age 16 with Florence St. John's Opera Company, performing in Madame Favart at the Strand Theatre in 1880. She subsequently took a small part in Olivette, perhaps with a touring (or London suburban) company. It was in this role that she captivated Henry A. Lytton, whom she married in late 1883. In the interim, she continued to appear in and around London, and began to use the stage name Louie Henri.

The next months would be hard for the young couple. They joined together with several other out-of-work actors and sought their fortune going from town to town in Surrey, performing a drama, All of Her, and an operetta, Tom Tug the Waterman, to indifferent audiences. The plays were augmented by songs and dances which Lytton later claimed, in "The Secrets of a Savoyard," were the best feature of the program. They spent more than they earned and were soon in dire straits.

She was engaged by Mr. D'Oyly Carte's "D" ('Princess Ida' No. 1) Company for the First Provincial production of Princess Ida, commencing in Glasgow on February 4, 1884, playing the small part of Ada. Her husband (masquerading as her brother) was in the chorus, using the name of H. A. Henri. She remained with "D" Company for the duration of the tour, until May 1885.

After a brief detour to London's Avenue Theatre (May-June 1885), where she appeared in the chorus of Bucalossi's Les Manteaux Noirs, she joined Mr. D'Oyly Carte's "C" (Repertory) Company where she appeared in the chorus and had the small named part of First Bridesmaid in Trial by Jury from September to December 1885, at which point "C" Company was disbanded.

In 1886, she and her husband found work in the chorus of Ivan Caryll's comic opera The Lily of Leoville. It was produced at the Grand Theatre, Birmingham, on May 3, 1886, under the management of Violet Melnotte, and brought to the Comedy Theatre, London, a week later for a run of 41 perfomances, ending June 25 of that year.

When Lytton obtained an engagement in the chorus and as understudy to George Grossmith as Robin Oakapple in Ruddygore at the Savoy (January 1887) their luck began to turn. In December 1887, when Lytton took over principal comic baritone parts with Carte's "E" Company, Louie Henri rejoined him on tour, playing Edith in The Pirates of Penzance from April 1888 forward, and also substituting in April as Josephine in H.M.S. Pinafore. From June to November 1888, "E" Company toured Pirates and The Mikado, with Miss Henri, now principal soubrette, as Edith and Pitti-Sing respectively. But by the time "E" Company took up The Yeomen of the Guard exclusively in November 1888, Louie had gone on maternity leave and Haidee Crofton was brought in to play Phoebe Meryll. In early 1889 Miss Henri returned as Phoebe, and also played Pitti-Sing again when The Mikado was revived in April. Both roles would be taken for a time by Louise Rowe in May and September, and assumed by Haidee Crofton in December 1889 following the disbanding of Company "C." Louie Henri was out of Company "E" again until November 1890 when she reclaimed Pitti-Sing (from the departing Louise Rowe).

In the first part of 1891 Louie Henri would share Pitti-Sing and, perhaps, Tessa in The Gondoliers with Kate Kavanagh. When Miss Kavanagh left Company "E" in July, Miss Henri assumed both roles on her own, adding the title role in Iolanthe when the fairy opera was revived in September 1891. She then either left the Company for a spell (December 1891-April 1892) while Alice Pennington assumed the leading soubrette parts with Company "E". Miss Henri reclaimed Iolanthe, Pitti-Sing, and Tessa in April 1892. In June 1892, Gondoliers was replaced in the repertoire by The Vicar of Bray, with Miss Henri as Nelly Bly. The Vicar of Bray ran until March. The Company also played Billee Taylor in April and May 1893, with Louie Henri as Arabella Lane.

From May to November 1893, Company "E" toured Mikado and Haddon Hall only, with Miss Henri as Pitti-Sing and Dorcas respectively. There is then another gap in the record:Miss Henri is not in the program for the First Provincial production of Utopia Limited, which "E" Company commenced on December 1, 1893. She would eventually join the cast as Nekaya, but not until May 1894. In July 1894 she transferred to D'Oyly Carte Opera Company "D" as Nekaya, a part she would play for the balance of the tour:until December 1895. With Company "D" she also appeared as Nelly Bly in The Vicar of Bray (November 1894-December 1895), Zerbinetta in Mirette (December 1894-June 1895), Dolly Grigg in The Chieftain (February-August 1895), and Melissa in Princess Ida (September-December 1895).

Company "D" was idle from December 14, 1895, to March 16, 1896, when they reassembled to produce The Grand Duke, with Miss Henri as Julia Jellicoe. The Grand Duke toured alone until October 1896, when it was joined by Utopia Limited (Louie Henri as Nekaya). In November 1896 Company "D" was disbanded, and Louie Henri joined Company "C" (a repertory company) replacing Dorothy Vane, who was leaving for a D'Oyly Carte tour of South Africa, as principal soubrette. She toured with Company "D" for about a month as Constance Partlett in The Sorcerer, Hebe in Pinafore, Edith, Lady Angela in Patience, Iolanthe, Melissa, Pitti-Sing, Phoebe, and Tessa. Then in mid-December 1896 she joined Company "B" touring Mikado, Yeomen and (beginning in January 1897) Iolanthe, as Pitti-Sing, Phoebe, and Iolanthe.

In June 1897 she joined her husband at the Savoy, where she was a chorister in the revival of The Yeomen of the Guard and the new production of The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein, while creating the title role in the companion piece to both:Old Sarah. In March 1898 she gave up her part in Old Sarah to play Tessa in the first revival of The Gondoliers. She would leave the D'Oyly Carte and the stage in May 1898.

Although not recorded elsewhere, Henry Lytton reports in "The Secrets of a Savoyard" that she also appeared at some point in her career as the Plaintiff in Trial by Jury and Mrs. Partlett in The Sorcerer.

In 1902-03 she recorded several songs, mostly from current musicals A Country Girl and The Girl from Kay's, and mostly duets with her husband. Their recordings also included a duet from Iolanthe ("None shall part us"), though she had never appeared as Phyllis, and the part was clearly out of her range. In later years Louie Henri appeared in several silent films, most notably as Queen Victoria in the 1913 film Sixty Years a Queen.

Louie Henri's life and career is discussed more fully in "Lytton: Gilbert & Sullivan's Jester" by Brian Jones, a biography of Henry A. Lytton, published by the author's own Basingstoke Books Ltd. in 2005.

Page modified February 12, 2007 © 2001-07 David Stone