Now in his third week of rehearsals for the national tour of “Book of Mormon,” Macon native Grey Henson is just beginning his professional career in musical theater. He will be playing Elder McKinley, the part originally performed by Rory O’Malley, who was nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal in the original Broadway run. But as the song “Closing Time” by Semisonic wisely states, “Every new beginning is some other beginning’s end.” The beginning of his professional career is the end of an amateur career, which for Henson, has spanned more than 15 years.
Grey began simply as an enthusiastic kid dancing around his home. His mother wasn’t sure what to do with him, but a friend suggested ballet classes. She was hesitant, but she didn’t balk at the idea. Instead, she enrolled her son at The Madison Studio.
“She didn’t know if it was okay for a boy to start dancing,” he explained. Luckily for Grey, his mother took a chance. The result — he found an outlet to express himself and fell in love with performing at an early age.
“I loved performing for people,” he recalled. Learning how to work with an audience and to elicit emotions in them through a performance was magical to Grey. Along the way, he expanded from dance into acting. He performed at Macon Little Theatre and came up through the Youth Actors Company at Theatre Macon.
“He was, as a child, one of those magical little kids,” said Jim Crisp, artistic director at Theatre Macon. “You could tell that there was always something going on in his mind. He was taking everything in, he was very unselfconscious. He intuitively and naturally made all the right choices on stage.”
Crisp credits Henson’s current success with the support network he had as a child. “He was surrounded by adults who encouraged him,” said Crisp. Grey’s support network included his mother, who had performed throughout her life. His summers were spent learning, usually at intensive workshops.
“I used the summers to narrow in and see what I wanted to do,” said Grey.
After his junior year in high school, Grey was fortunate enough to attend the pre-college program at Carnegie Mellon. It was then that Henson was able to get to know some of the faculty. In his senior year, he was accepted into the musical theater program. In the summer after his first year at Carnegie, he was featured in “The Producers” at Theatre Macon. Crisp was more impressed than ever.
“He was definitely the caliber of young performer that could go somewhere,” recalled Crisp. “To what level, I didn’t know. I couldn’t predict that. He had the professional polish and the inner core of confidence, ambition and hustle.”
Fast forward to his senior year at Carnegie. Auditions were announced for the “Book of Mormon” tour and Don Wadsworth, professor of Voice and Speech, encouraged Henson to audition. Apparently, Grey reminded him of a former Carnegie Mellon graduate, Rory O’Malley (yes, same guy), and he thought Grey would be a perfect fit for the national tour. The audition process spanned most of his senior year, but he ultimately landed the role.
Now, Grey says he’s having the time of his life. He credits those summers working with his craft and honing his skills. He credits his time at the Youth Actor’s Company and the support of his family. And his advice to the next “Grey Henson,” who might already be waiting in the wings of some dance studio or community theater in Macon? Get out of your comfort zone. Keep learning and honing your craft. Work with as many people as possible and expand your artistic vocabulary.
Sound advice from the soon-to-be Elder McKinley, whose first steps took place in Macon.