Shuler Hensley Bio - Biography

Name Shuler Hensley
Height 6' 4"
Naionality American
Date of Birth 6 March 1967
Place of Birth Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Famous for
So began a Playbill interview with Shuler in 2002, a year of overwhelming success which saw him achieve Broadway’s "Triple Crown" of Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards to sit alongside the Olivier Award already gained in London for his exceptional portrayal of Jud Fry in Trevor Nunn’s revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein favourite, Oklahoma!
Writing in the New York Times, Ben Brantley described Shuler’s:

"Riveting performance. His resonant baritone conveys myriad shades of longing, despair and anger turning "Lonely Room" into the evening's most memorable musical moment." Linda Winer of spoke of "Shuler Hensley's majestically haunting Jud Fry." Barbara D. Phillips enthused in the Wall Street Journal: "Shuler Hensley is unforgettable. A strapping actor who resembles Orson Welles in his prime, he turns Jud Fry into a tormented soul whose yearning for Laurey and rivalry with Curly arouse not only our fear but our sympathy."

Elsewhere: "His Jud Fry remains a revelation." --- "Shuler Hensley portrays him with a gripping intensity." --- "He brings depth and psychological truth to his role as Jud." --- "He portrays the nominal villain of the piece with mesmerizing darkness and a thrillingly operatic baritone." --- "He brings this troubled man to life. He has the authority, and the voice, to give the man credibility." --- "Hensley's Olivier Award-winning performance is a tour de force."

Shuler’s career began in the early 1990’s with roles such as Pitkin in On the Town, Joe in The Most Happy Fella, and Miles Gloriosus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, plus appearances in the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas Pirates of Penzance and Patience. And in addition to an early Oklahoma! casting as Jud Fry at the North Shore Music Theatre, Boston, Shuler also played Curly at the Skylight Opera Theatre, Milwaukee!

In the summer of 1996 he moved to Hamburg to play the lead in The Phantom of the Opera, performing the role in German!

"It was one of the roles I wanted to do, but the way it's cast here (in the United States) is a lighter voice. My voice is darker, which is the German tradition."

Travelling back to America by way of England in order to visit with his wife’s family, Shuler heard that casting was in progress for Trevor Nunn’s London revival of Oklahoma! - and the rest, as they say, is history!

According to Susan Stroman, the show’s choreographer:

"All the sudden this giant American man walked in, and he started to sing, and it just gave me chill bumps. We realized right away that we had the real Jud Fry in front of us."

And Cameron Mackintosh, the show’s producer:

"I think occasionally in one's life, somebody finds a part that he so totally inhabits that it goes beyond acting. I think all the things that Shuler has in his dramatic and vocal arsenal are so perfect for the role."

Shuler was Jud Fry in London for 10 months, wowing critics and theatre-goers alike (London reviews) and became the proud recipient of the coveted Olivier Award – London theatre’s equivalent of the Tony – for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical.

He subsequently made his Broadway debut in November 2000 portraying the relentless Inspector Javert in Les Misérables, a role which he performed for a year. And February 2002 saw, at long last, the arrival of Oklahoma! on Broadway, and with it the opportunity to reprise his critically acclaimed performance of Jud Fry. Once more receiving rave review after rave review (Broadway reviews) Shuler again became a proud award winner, this time of three separate awards – the prestigious Tony (New York theatre’s highest honour) the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics’ Circle, collectively referred to as Broadway’s "Triple Crown".

Shuler performed in the show for almost a year, during which time he acquired not only the highest accolades but also the additional honour of having his caricature commissioned by Sardis to hang in their famous New York restaurant and his Jud Fry likeness captured by the legendary Al Hirschfeld in a cartoon which featured on the front page of the New York Times' Arts & Leisure section in February 2002.

In 2005 Shuler moved Off-Broadway and, in a total departure from his usual style, played toll-booth collector Norbert (caught up in a love triangle with his agoraphobic wife and the stripper-next-door!) in The Great American Trailer Park Musical. This fun show with its country/rock/blues score gave Shuler chance to demonstrate his comedic skills - and some great dance moves!

"Being from the South and having relatives from South Georgia, it was one of those things where I was like, "I know these people!" And, I thought it would be nice to do a comedy as opposed to the serious, psycho-killer roles that I usually end up doing!"

In addition to musicals, Shuler's resumé also includes leading roles in operas such as Don Giovanni, La Bohème and The Magic Flute. He has continued to take voice lessons since leaving college and says three opera roles interest him: "Iago in Verdi’s Otello, Tarquinius (Rape of Lucretia) and Nick Shadow (Rake's Progress". He’d also love to play the lead in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. According to his friend Hugh Jackman:

"He's extraordinary, He could walk into any opera company in the world. He's got an amazing range. He's a big man and uses all of it."

He has appeared in concerts such as Broadway Under the Stars, Thomashefsky’s Yiddish Theatre (with Michael Tilson Thomas), Regina (with Patti LuPone), Happy End Music by Kurt Weill, Heart and Soul (the American Songbook Tribute to Frank Loesser), and Some Enchanted Evening, a Richard Rodgers Gala at the Juilliard School, New York 2002, which as well as celebrating the centennial of Rodger's birth also paid tribute to his daughter and Juilliard chairman emeritus, Mary Guettel. Shuler sang Lonely Room and Ms Guettel said of the song : "To me it's the most important piece my father wrote, the first time he stretched his wings as a composer."

In October 2001 Shuler played the lead in a unique, full-length film of Frankenstein,The Musical - a brand new show written by Mark Baron, Gary P Cohen and Jeff Jackson and the very first fully-produced film "demo" of a new musical.

And in July of that year he took part in the three week development of a new play - Making It by Joe Hortua - at the Sundance Institute's Theatre Lab in Utah.

TV credits include starring roles in Law and Order : Special Victims Unit, L&O Criminal Intent, Barry Levinson's The Jury, and a recurring role in the delightful, popular, award-winning NBC comedy series Ed.

Film credits began with small roles in the 1995 re-make of Sabrina ("You have to look quick! ") and the Hugh Jackman/Ashley Judd romantic comedy Someone Like You (aka Animal Attraction). Since then, Shuler has played the leading role of sport’s commentator Keith Jackson in Monday Night Mayhem a TNT docu-drama about the early days of Monday Night Football, described by Shuler as "sort of like the MTV of football! " And he received great reviews for his role of "Pino" in the multi-award-winning independent movie The Bread, My Sweet (aka A Wedding For Bella) written and directed by Pittsburgh playwright Melissa Martin.

According to Ed Blank of PittsburghLive:

"If Martin and co-producer Adrienne Wehr can find a way to navigate the waters and politics of a Los Angeles engagement and get the film seen by a sufficient number of Motion Picture Academy voters…..Hensley could be a major Oscar contender in what is already the Pittsburgh sleeper of the year."

It was while appearing in Oklahoma! on Broadway that Shuler auditioned, and was chosen, to play Frankenstein's Monster in director/writer Stephen Sommer's 2004 movie Van Helsing. The film of course re-united him with his London Oklahoma! co-star Hugh Jackman, although "It was a complete coincidence that Hugh was in it. When I auditioned, I had no idea. They told me that Hugh Jackman was going to play Van Helsing and asked me if I knew him! "

Shuler received good reviews for his sympathetic portrayal of the misunderstood Monster, and says of his approach to the role: "I like doing villains or outcasts, but I try to give them human qualities so that it's not so clearly defined that they're a bad man, but have good qualities within. It makes it more interesting and I think that's along the same lines that Stephen was looking for, for these characters. They're not so clearly defined as we would think."

Since then, Shuler has appeared in another blockbuster movie, the 2005 Legend of Zorro (sequel to The Mask of Zorro) in which he plays a "shady" Pinkerton detective alongside Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. "I get two good fight scenes with both of them, and of course they both kick my ass, but it was fun doing them! "

Shuler's latest movie is Opa!, which premièred at the Toronto Film Festival in 2005. A romantic comedy starring Matthew Modine, it was filmed on the beautiful Greek island of Patmos. "Just being over there for a few weeks on this island was beyond words."

Born on March 6, 1967 in Atlanta, Georgia, the youngest of Sam and Iris Hensley’s three children, Shuler grew up in Marietta, Georgia. His brother, Sam Jr., is a writer and his sister, Nevanne, is an actress. His father is a former Georgia Tech football star, retired civil engineer and former state senator. His mother, Iris Antley Hensley, was the Artistic Director of the Georgia Ballet, and Shuler had an early start in show business at the age of four when he appeared as Fritz in her production of The Nutcracker!

"She always kids me that I'm a big ballet dancer," says Shuler, although he thinks of himself as being "like the hippo in Fantasia!" 1999 saw his return to the Georgia Ballet to make a guest appearance as Narrator in The Carnival of the Animals. Shuler says his mother’s career "was the crux of my getting an education in voice and classical training as a foundation. It's what has saved me at least in being able to support a performance and sing properly. People get in such trouble when they're doing eight shows a week."

Shuler's Mom passed away on 30th August 2003 after a long fight with cancer. A tribute to Ms Hensley can be read here

"Shuler" was the name of his mother's father, and is a German name meaning "student" or "scholar". The name Hensley is of Scottish origin and has the delightful meaning "a tree full of birds."

At age nine, Shuler became a member of The Atlanta Boys' Choir, one of the most renowned choirs in the United States. In 1985 he graduated from Atlanta's private Westminster Schools, where he had played baseball, football and basketball. He then attended the University of Georgia on a baseball scholarship and while there performed in the concert choir and glee club.

"I had scouted and I went to college on a baseball scholarship but I also did theater and sang. It never struck me as strange until I got to high school and it began to be apparent that it was not normal for people to enjoy doing both. Then in college it was REALLY apparent!"

After attending a recital by Jessye Norman ("I was transported by her voice") and being cast as Judge Turpin in a college production of Sweeney Todd, he decided to leave university after his sophomore year in order to study voice at the Manhattan School of Music.

"I was a pitcher on the baseball team and an international business major at Georgia, but I always knew that I wanted to pursue the theater. It was no longer fun to play. I needed to focus and get to New York"

Having majored in opera and at the same time taken private acting classes, he graduated from the Manhattan School of Music in 1989 with a degree in vocal performance, finishing the four-year course in three years. From there he went to the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, and obtained his Master's Degree in 1993.

"The opera department there did three major operas a year. I never really wanted to be an opera singer but, because of my mother being a ballet director, the emphasis was on having a classical foundation. I've always considered myself an actor who could sing."

Shuler is 6ft 3in and what he calls "a good linebacker size!" He met his wife, British-born Paula DeRosa, a yoga and fitness instructor, in 1994 while she was tending bar in Arriba, a Manhattan restaurant, and they married a year later.

Shuler and Paula are the proud parents of Skyler Elizabeth (b. 2000) and Grayson (b. 2004).Shuler once said of Skyler: "She's my acting teacher. Every reaction is based in honesty, whenever she reacts to an animal she hasn't seen or a situation she finds amusing."
Photo by David Zukerman for Shuler

More family photos in the Gallery

As I write, Shuler is starring in Disney's big new Broadway musical Tarzan in which he plays Tarzan's adoptive father Kerchak, bringing "gravitas and a powerful baritone to the role" (Variety). His all-time favourite rock concert while at school in Atlanta back in the '80s was Phil Collins' band, Genesis. Collins was composer for the 1999 film of Tarzan, and wrote additional songs for the show including Kerchak's big number, No Other Way. "When I found out he was writing a song for my character, I was like, I've got to do this! "

Shuler Hensley Photos