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Broadway Q&A: Grey Henson of ‘Mean Girls'

Category Broadway

|by Matthew Wexler |


You GO, Grey Henson

The girls aren’t getting all the attention in the new hit musical Mean Girls. Fans are also flocking to see Grey Henson, who was nominated for a Tony Award for his fun-loving, flamboyant performance.

Based on the film of the same name (and featuring a book by Tina Fey, who wrote the original screenplay), Mean Girls follows the character of Cady Heron as she navigates the trials and tribulations of high school and trying to fit in. Fortunately, she’s got a bestie in Damian Hubbard (Henson), who shows her the ropes. At 28 years old, the actor has been working non-stop since graduating from Carnegie Mellon University.

ShowTickets chatted with Henson about Mean Girls fandom, his audition and how today’s teens should embrace their individuality.

Grey Henson geeks out as musical theater lover Damian in ‘Mean Girls’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Grey Henson geeks out as musical theater lover Damian in ‘Mean Girls’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

How does your character (Damian Hubbard) relate to the storyline of a teenage girl trying to fit into the popular crowd in a suburban high school?
Damian is the gay best friend of your dreams that everyone wishes they had. (I wish I had!). He’s confident and comfortable and kind, and takes Cady under his wings and shows her the ropes around school, all in the hopes that she’ll become his friend, too. He’s an outcast…an art freak…a theater nerd who loves musicals. And he’s not safe from being a mean girl himself, at times.
 

Mean Girls is based on the 2004 film of the same name. In what ways is the musical different from the film? And more importantly, will super fans get their fix with some of the movie’s famous moments?
It does appeal to a wide audience. The movie came when I was in high school and I was obsessed with it. Now our generation is in our late 20s, and we love the musical because we loved the movie. But there is also a younger generation of fans who have really embraced our show, which is exciting because it's such a fresh score.

But the musical is very different from the movie. I think Tina knew as she was writing it that she had to put in some of those iconic lines, but she wasn't attached to her old script. It was actually her first screenplay, and if anything, I think she was excited to take another crack at it and further develop it.

When you’re creating a musical, you also have to dive deeper into what a character is saying because you’re making them sing. As silly as it is, you sing because you can’t speak anymore. So we get to see more of these characters and the dynamics between them.
 

What was your audition process like?
I was cast in the first national tour of Book of Mormon while I was still a senior in college. Rehearsals started that July and the entire original creative team was present, so I got to work with co-director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw, along with Matt Stone and Trey Parker. I toured for two years, then did the Broadway company for another two years.

Casey called and asked me to do the first-ever reading of Mean Girls. They had just written the first act and wanted to hear it. At that point, the songs were just demos. But that wasn’t by any means my audition, and early on they were considering using teenagers. But when the auditions finally came around, just like anybody else, my agents got me an appointment and I went in three or four times before getting the lab production. I sang Sam Smith’s “I’m Not the Only One” – I thought that was appropriate for Damian! I read with Barrett Wilbert Reed (Janice) at our final callback.

Your big Act II number, “Stop,” was added after the show’s initial run in Washington, DC. How did it come about, and what do you think it says about our obsession with knee-jerk reactions and quick social media comebacks?
When Jeff Richmond (music) and Nell Benjamin (lyrics) were creating the song, they wanted to show how Cady was becoming plastic. Originally, Act II opened with a song called "Bossed Up" but we didn't want it to be such a drastic switch, and instead show her becoming plastic through her friend's eyes. At the core, it's about making assumptions when you shouldn't. And, of course, it's only appropriate that Damian do a tap number! Casey was excited to put tap dance in the show, and it felt like such a compliment for me, too.
 

Your character, Damian Hubbard, is unabashedly comfortable in his own skin. What would you say to teens struggling to find their place in high school?
He’s unapologetically himself. Ultimately, you have to own what makes your weird and unique. At the end of the day, nobody does exactly what you do. When you own that and are confident, people gravitate towards it. There's nothing more attractive than seeing someone who is confident. That's something that's been so great about playing Damian. Even though I was comfortable in my skin, I wasn't out of the closet in high school, and not necessarily as witty or quick or funny as he is. So it's nice to represent someone who is himself and not afraid of it. Even though he's sometimes considered an outcast, Damian is at the head of his own parade.
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For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of Top Shows in August 2018

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