‘God’s favorite musical’ opens at Fox Theathre Jan. 28
Most performers have to wait a while and pay their dues before they land starring roles in splashy musicals. Georgia native Grey Henson, luckily, didn’t have to wait ― he got a plum role in “The Book of Mormon” as his first professional stage gig after college.
One of the most acclaimed and popular musicals of the last decade, the gay-themed “Mormon” debuts in Atlanta at the end of the month, courtesy of Broadway Across America.
As a gay performer growing up in Macon, Henson spread his wings and attended Carnegie Mellon University after high school. He thought he would pursue a dancing career, but after a pre-college camp at Carnegie he realized he wanted to pursue acting/musical theater. He has been with the show since the national tour opened in August 2012 in Denver. He auditioned for the role and knew he got it even before he graduated.
Created by the “South Park” team of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, as well as Robert Lopez, co-composer and co-lyricist of “Avenue Q,” “The Book of Mormon” follows a pair of Mormon missionaries as they visit a village in Uganda. As they try and spread the word of their scriptures, they realize the natives have larger issues to contend with.
Henson plays the sexually conflicted Elder McKinley, the Mormon district leader who also visits the area.
“He is a 19-year-old overseeing other 19-year-olds, so he feels full of power,” says Henson. McKinley is having all these thoughts he realizes he should not be having. In his big number “Turn it Off,” he suggests to his fellow missionaries that they simply switch off negatives feelings and thoughts.
“Mormon” won a slew of Tony Awards ― nine in all, including Best Musical. As he has criss-crossed the country with the production, Henson has seen city after city fall for it. Every blue moon there is someone who is upset, he says, noting that some people think the musical is racier than it is.
“It’s usually someone who knows nothing about the show or the ‘South Park’ guys,” says the actor. “Ninety-nine percent of the crowds love it.”
Henson’s parents have seen the show several times and a large group from Macon will be coming up for the Atlanta gig as well. LGBT audiences have been particularly accepting of “Book of Mormon,” Henson feels. “The show, at the end of it, is touching and is about acceptance,” he says. “For McKinley, it does get better and LGBT audiences can see that he has struggled.”
Henson still calls Macon his home, although at some point he realizes he will need to move to New York to further pursue a performing career.
Another gay performer in the cast is Daniel LeClaire, who has also been with the musical since the national tour launched. He is part of the ensemble, bringing to life many characters including two of the elders. Like Henson, he feels lucky to be with the national tour.
“This is the only show I would be think about being part of for two years,” he admits. “It’s all about openness and love; there is no hate,” he says. His visit will be his first professional gig in the ATL. He is in no hurry to leave but when he does he might focus on his music career more so than acting.
Among his other stage and TV credits was the recent “Betty White 90th Birthday” special. He had a blast. “She is the hardest working woman in the business,” he recalls. “She never sat down the entire time.”
Broadway Across America announces 2014-15 season
Broadway Across America Atlanta has just announced the 2014-2015 season and it includes a full year of musical dandies. After closing out the 2013-2014 season with “Once,” “The Lion King,” “American Idiot” and “Evita,” the new season kicks off again this summer with “The Little Mermaid,” which was set for the ATL as part of Theater of the Stars last year before the organization closed, and continues with “Dirty Dancing,” “Newsies,” “Motown: The Musical,” and “Pippin” (just successfully revived on Broadway).
The upcoming year also includes such favorites such as “Blue Man Group,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Wicked” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” In all, it looks like a crowd-pleasing mix of new musicals and returning ones.
‘The Book of Mormon’
Jan. 28 – Feb. 9
The Fox Theatre
660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta, GA 30308