Theater

“The Book of Mormon” Actor Henry McGinniss Opens Up About What it Takes to Become A Broadway Performer

Courtesy of Amanda MeyerMcGinniss graduated from Roosevelt University and said hard work helped him make it in Broadway.

“The Book of Mormon” first premiered on Broadway in 2011. Written by the same people who created ”South Park,” Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the musical is anything but typical.

The comedy in the play is frugal when it comes to heartfelt moments, and it traffics in mildly to severely offensive jokes in the form of cheeky ballads and catchy group numbers, many of which are aimed at the Mormon religion.

The show follows the story of Kevin Price (Kevin Clay) and Arnold Cunningham (Conner Peirson), on this tour, respectively, two “really, really nice” Mormon missionaries who travel to Uganda to spread the story of the all-American prophet, Joseph Smith.

While some might find the musical comedy provocative, it’s only meant to poke fun at religion in general by satirizing missionaries attempting to convert a village of Africans, when the villagers are far more preoccupied with concern over the warlords, famine and AIDS.

The Phoenix spoke with Henry McGinniss, a Roosevelt University musical theater graduate who was cast as a swing for the character of Elder McKinley, as well as all of the male ensemble roles. While eight tracks might seem overwhelming, McGinniss approaches this challenge with a plucky attitude.

“If someone is sick or injured or leaves for vacation, I then get the call and then fill in for that role that night,” McGinniss said. “It’s my first time ever being a swing and it’s my first time ever being on a national tour for a production this large so it definitely pushed me and taught me that I’m capable doing things I never thought I would be.”

The Roosevelt alumnus knew he wanted to pursue theater since he was a junior in high school.

“I got cast as Tony in West Side Story, and I think it was opening night of that production that I was out on-stage singing ‘Something’s Coming,’ and I just remember getting the applause after that number and thinking, ‘This is what I want to do with the rest of my life,’ McGinniss said. “After that point, I really started honing in and doing more shows.”

McGinniss said he knew he wanted to be in “Mormon” after seeing it for the first time. 

“I just remember sitting in the audience thinking, ‘I need to be in that show. I have to be in that show. There’s no show that I’m more right for in my life right now,’” he said.

Being on the “Mormon” tour has been the chance of a lifetime for McGinniss. He’s had many special moments, from signing playbills for fans at the stage door after the show to tackling his first lead role. 

“I would say me going on for Elder McKinley the first time in Calgary was a bit of an unplanned situation,” McGinniss said. “Our McKinley got sick at the last minute and I was ready and it was my turn to go on, and it just so happened that my dad was in Calgary visiting me that week and he was able to see my debut as Elder McKinley, so that was a really special moment.”

The business of live theater is a highly competitive one, so to nab a role in a Broadway show is no easy feat. McGinniss said students should relish every opportunity to learn and work hard to give themselves an edge in the industry.

“If you’re not putting in the work, someone else out there is,” he said. “Know yourself. Know what your strengths are. Continue improving upon the things that you’re already good at [and] realize the things that you’re not so great at and work 10 times as hard on those things.”

Most of all, McGinniss said he wants people to know “The Book of Mormon” is a truly special show.

“I think it’s great for people with all different ideologies and sexualities,” McGinniss said. “I really think that it’s just got such a great message and if you haven’t seen it, come see it, and if you have seen it, come back and see it again.”

“The Book of Mormon” will be playing at the Oriental Theater from Nov. 20-Dec. 2. Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office and cost $37-$147. 

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