Macon native Grey Henson featured in ‘Book of Mormon’


INSIDE

AJC theater critic Wendell Brock’s review of “Book of Mormon,” D2

It’s tough inviting your mom to a show stuffed with sex jokes, profanity and characters whose names can’t be printed in a family newspaper.

Grey Henson, the 23-year-old prodigy from Macon, who is one of the featured performers in the ragingly successful “The Book of Mormon,” isn’t worried.

“I like to think my mom’s a little unrestrained herself,” said Henson, who joined the first touring company of the nine-time Tony-winning show right out of college and has been on the road ever since. “The Book of Mormon” completes a 15-show run at the Fox Theatre this week, after making up for a few of last week’s SnowJam-canceled performances.

Mom was copacetic. Dad, Henson said, was another matter.

“Dad was raised Southern Baptist on a farm,” Henson said. “I was a little nervous for him to see the show and the material. But he is the best dad.”

Henson pauses, with a comedian’s timing. “I don’t think his extended family is planning on coming.”

Paige and Johnny Henson, Grey’s mom and dad, have seen the show in Denver, New Orleans and San Francisco, and both are enormously proud of their son and never more so than when they go backstage and they hear from his colleagues about how hard he works and how professional he is.

Yes, it is a comedy about Mormon missionaries in the most blighted corner of Uganda, where AIDS, death, famine and female circumcision are grist for the dark humor.

“The show is hard to watch in places,” said Paige Henson, a public relations consultant in Macon. She and her husband, who is retired from the Environmental Protection Division, planned to motor up for Sunday’s matinee. “Even Grey’s dad winces once in a while,” she said.

But, she adds, the satire is good-natured, and the overall message is uplifting.

“It has a message of great import about acceptance of people,” she said, “acknowledging that some of us go through the world feeling superior in our beliefs and discounting everyone else’s beliefs.”

Now, lest we become too reverent here, we should remember that this is a show written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (plus their co-writer Robert Lopez), and Parker and Stone are creators of “South Park,” perhaps the least reverent show on television.

Yet even “South Park,” despite its crass-happy vulgarity, can find a warm place in the hearts of otherwise pious Americans.

“I’m offended when I watch ‘South Park,’ but I still laugh,” said Josephine Bennett of Macon, whose ancestors were Mormon pioneers and who plans on seeing the show at the Fox.

“My husband had always, from the moment (“The Book of Mormon”) came out, wanted to see it,” Bennett said.

Luckily for them, their good friend Grey Henson became a member of the touring company, giving them an excuse to buy tickets.

“We thought we’d have to go with a bag over our heads, and now we can go,” Bennett said. “I told Grey we’ll be easy to spot in the audience. We’ll be the ones laughing at all the inside jokes.”

The Bennetts have been friends with the Hensons for years, and Grey interned in Josephine’s office. She has watched his meteoric rise in musical theater with delight and remembers him as a 3-year-old who insisted on going to dance school.

Henson studied ballet for years before he realized he also had a singing voice. At the same time he went through a growth spurt, turning into the 6-foot-3 gentle giant that he is today.

“I kind of look like I should be football player — with the face of a 12 year old,” he said.

Henson plays the squeaky-clean-cut Elder McKinley, whose stand-out number is “Turn It Off,” about the need to subsume all passions beneath the mission of the church.

“His No. 1 goal in life is to be a good Mormon,” said Henson, speaking from a tour stop in Cincinnati. “This little pesky thing of his homosexuality is something he can’t be bothered with.” Henson points out that while McKinley sings, he begins tap-dancing. “That’s the joke.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has responded to the play with restrained good humor, taking out ads in the show’s programs that read “You’ve seen the play, now read the book.”

Said Henson: “Wherever we go we have Mormon missionaries standing outside the front of the theater, handing out actual Books of Mormon. They are kind of spreading the word. Audience members think they are in the cast.”