By John Benson
These days, not only is actor Grey Henson laughing at himself, but he’s feeling downright giddy.
You see it was roughly a year ago that Henson was graduating from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in acting and musical theater. At that point, the closest the thespian could get to the Tony Award winning musical “The Book of Mormon” was listening to the hilarious Grammy Award winning soundtrack and imagining its sets.
Yet today, Henson finds himself a cast member in the incredibly successful Trey Parker and Matt Stone (“South Park” creators) send-up of Mormonism and religion. Even more surreal is the fact he’s in the role of Elder McKinley, played in the original Broadway cast by Rory O’Malley who is not only from Cleveland but also attended Carnegie-Mellon.
“It was a lot of pressure,” said Henson, calling from Buffalo. “I honestly for the first month of rehearsals thought I was going to be fired at any moment because they felt they made the wrong decision, but Rory is a good friend of mine and so talented. He was perfect in the role. I was nervous for those reasons because I wanted to do the role justice. Hopefully I’m following in his footsteps in a good way.”
Those footsteps include playing the quirky, closeted and downright hilarious Elder McKinley, who along with other LDS missionaries are in Africa to convert the unconverted. For McKinley, his moment in the spotlight revolves around the song “Turn It Off,” which is his way of keeping his homosexuality – he thinks – a secret.
If there is any controversy surrounding “The Book of Mormon” it’s tied to Parker and Stone’s potty-mouth material, which Henson said has provided plenty of interesting reactions as the national tour makes its way through the Midwest. The insanely popular musical comes to Cleveland on June 18 through July 7 at the Palace Theatre.
“The jokes land in different ways in different cities,” Henson said. “It’s been interesting seeing how different audiences respond to it. We do get a lot of subscription holders that may not know a lot about the show. I think they are a little surprised by what they’re hearing, but on a whole, it’s been a really great run. We’ve been doing really well.”
Even though there is plenty of baggage surrounding “The Book of Mormon,” Henson feels there are misconceptions in the public regarding the musical.
“People think it pokes too much fun at the Mormon religion,” Henson said. “Honestly, it’s through this lens of Mormonism that we kind of laugh and joke but the scenario itself can be taken out of context and put anywhere else. Some people think we’re just downright mean and rude, but nothing we say in this show isn’t true about the religion.
“And it’s ‘South Park’ humor. It might be shocking but it would be silly not to laugh about it. It’s kind of like we’re all laughing at ourselves.”