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Macon’s Grey Henson makes Broadway debut

Grey Henson, second from right, poses with part of his entourage for his 2014 Broadway debut in the "Book of Mormon" at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. From left are his mother, Paige Henson, actress Carrie Preston, Charlene Churchwell, and his father, Johnny Henson.
Grey Henson, second from right, poses with part of his entourage for his 2014 Broadway debut in the "Book of Mormon" at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. From left are his mother, Paige Henson, actress Carrie Preston, Charlene Churchwell, and his father, Johnny Henson.

Grey Henson’s cross-country travels with the touring production of “The Book of Mormon” led him Tuesday night to the Great White Way.

The 24-year-old actor, who grew up in Macon, made his Broadway debut as Elder McKinley at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on West 49th Street in New York City.

“Fabulous,” said Theatre Macon’s Charlene Churchwell, one of Henson’s friends in the audience. “He had a little entourage, but the audiences always love him. Just the greatest guy.”

Henson, who studied fine arts at Carnegie Mellon University, was tapped for the touring role before he graduated two years ago. Actor Rory O’Malley, who originated the part on Broadway, sent Henson’s picture to a casting director, which led to Henson joining the original tour in Denver as it launched in August 2012.

After nearly 900 performances across the nation, Henson fell into the Broadway role without an audition. While on tour last fall in Orlando, Florida, Henson was visiting Disney World with cast members when he got the call from producer Anne Garefino.

In a video interview with Broadway.com, Henson said he loves the role of Elder McKinley, who is in charge of a mission in Uganda.

“He’s all about suppression and he has certain feelings that aren’t great for him,” Henson said. “He deals with them by just ignoring them and completely shutting them off, and it turned into a Broadway dance number.”

That routine earned this Huffington Post review this month in Philadelphia: “Grey Henson dazzles in the ‘Turn it Off’ hoofer number with the missionaries magically donning pink vests and Henson hilariously releasing his gay gypsy dancer faster than you can say sequin.”

Henson has been dancing nearly all his life, and landed his first role at age 6 as a Lost Boy in “Peter Pan” at Macon Little Theatre, the same stage that helped launch Emmy winner Carrie Preston, who was in the Broadway audience Tuesday night.

Henson, who graduated from Stratford Academy, also studied classical theater in Europe and was one of Sylvia Haynie’s first students at the Academy of the Performing Arts.

Haynie’s son Michael debuted on Broadway in “Wicked” nearly two years ago, which is like Stratford having two former students playing Major League Baseball, she said.

“All of Stratford is abuzz,” said Haynie, the school’s drama teacher. “We’re ecstatic.”

Book of Mormon’s creators, who rose to fame with the “South Park” television show, have been impressed by Henson’s interpretation of the character, she said.

“He’s had a big impact on the show itself,” Haynie said.

Henson’s parents, Johnny and Paige, were all smiles for photographs after the show.

“We’re so excited,” Paige Henson said by telephone from New York. “He is certainly talented and he is amazing.”

The Hensons were impressed by how many people from New York’s theatre community stopped to talk to Grey before Tuesday’s performance.

“He is just a good, nice person who cares for everyone,” his mother said. “The people in the periphery love him.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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