Even though gay character Elder McKinley is a “second banana” in The Book of Mormon, getting to see him celebrate himself is powerful, according to Kenny Francoeur.
“At the end of the show, with the final number and everyone dancing together, there is this thing about all of our differences making our tapestry more interesting,” Francoeur says. “How happy can you be when you’re just trying to conform to someone else’s idea of how things should be?”
Francoeur, who is gay, serves as dance captain for a touring production of The Book of Mormon that stops at Houston’s Hobby Center this month. He says a lot of LGBTQ youth who see the show connect with the characters, and it means more to them than the writers intended, “which is really beautiful.”
“They wait at the stage door [after the show to talk to us about it],” he says.
The Book of Mormon is known for walking the razor’s edge between funny and offensive. And Francoeur admits that some situations and language in the show can be challenging for him. But he adds, “It’s a very real story about humanity and getting through differences. The best way to live life is to accept one another for our differences.”
Francoeur was a vocal-performance major at New York University. These days, one might call him a quadruple threat: he sings, dances, acts, and teaches. But he says teaching is the key to being a successful dance captain.
“My work is to keep the dancing clean and true to the original choreographer, keeping it to the level our producers—and most importantly, our audiences—expect to see,” he says.
His role is not just about teaching dance, though. It’s also about integrating new members into the show, as well as introducing scene work and music.
“You have to be able to walk the walk when you’re dancing, and be a solid teacher and communicator,” he says. “Everyone comes with talent, but with varying levels of experience or training.”
Francoeur is a swing as well, which means he frequently appears in the show. But teaching is by far his favorite part of the job. “It’s really fun if it’s a new dancer’s first show, or they’re getting used to being on the road. It’s a pleasure to be a stern welcoming/education committee.”
“It’s a very real story about humanity and getting through differences. The best way to live life is to accept one another for our differences.”
Francoeur says the best training he received for the job was being raised by his mother, a middle-school history teacher. “I can steal my mother’s tips and tricks and how she would handle things. I was set up for success. If I wasn’t good, it was my own fault.”
Francoeur has been with The Book of Mormon for a little more than three and a half years, so his home address is “on the road.”
“I have a pile of my crap in my parent’s basement,” he says. “It can be difficult to not have a bed of your own or a bookshelf. But this really is a gift. I’ve been able to see this country three times over. I’m very lucky. Not many people in their 20s get to do this.”
Francoeur says he has even started doing some writing about traveling around the country as a young gay man, including challenges “like getting your PrEP [prescription filled] in the middle of the country.”
This will be his third time in Houston. He was here with Anything Goes in 2014 and The Book of Mormon in 2017. Both times he was in rehearsals the entire week.
“It is a beautiful city,” he says. “I hope to get to see some things and eat some things this time. Being from such a tiny state, it’s shocking how different the cities are in Texas. Being in Austin versus Houston, or even Dallas versus Fort Worth—they are such large, individual cities. The Texan culture in each city is so different, each one could be an entirely different state.”
The Book of Mormon is not for everyone, Francoeur admits. But art rarely is. Ultimately, he says, it is a story about two white boys getting lost—and found—in Uganda.
“There is something really great about seeing a piece of theater that you can talk about afterward, whether you ‘got it’ or not,” he says.
What: The Book of Mormon
When: January 15–20
Where: The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby
Tickets and info: thehobbycenter.org
This article appears in the January 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.