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Actor hooked on 'Book of Mormon' comedy, camaraderie

Actor hooked on 'Book of Mormon' comedy, camaraderie

A Q & A with Jordan Matthew Brown, who plays Elder Cunningham
Actor hooked on 'Book of Mormon' comedy, camaraderie
Members of the company in "The Book of Mormon"; inset, Jordan Matthew Brown.
Photographer: julieta cervantes

For better or worse, satire walks a fine line these days.

Those in the business are reevaluating their material perhaps more than ever, trying to hit the right spot -- usually at a crossroads between insulting and heartfelt. 

“The Book of Mormon” is perhaps Broadway’s most celebrated comedy musical, and though it first took to the stage in 2011 is still going strong. Written by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, the production has won nine Tony Awards over the years, including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book, Best Direction and others. 

It tells the story of two young missionaries, Elders Price and Cunningham, who are sent to Uganda to convert people to mormonism. The musical heads to Proctors Tuesday and runs through May 19. 

Before the touring production makes its way to Schenectady, The Gazette caught up with Jordan Matthew Brown, who plays Elder Cunningham. He was just arriving in Syracuse when The Gazette spoke with the actor about yellow brick roads, his journey with “The Book of Mormon” and the humorous nature of the show.

Q: In your bio, you mention that you grew up watching “The Wizard of Oz.” Since you’re in Syracuse, if you have a have a chance, you’ve got to check out a town called Chittenango because it's the birthplace of the author of “The Wizard of Oz.” The sidewalks are yellow brick ...
A: L. Frank Baum? I’m going to have to go. I’m going to find time tonight. That’s so awesome. 

Q: I understand that “The Wizard of Oz” was an inspiration, but why did you get into acting in the first place?
A: I was recently talking about this with my mom actually. It’s just been something that I’ve always wanted to do. When I was really little, we went to see a community theater production of “Annie.” I was probably about 3 or 4, very young to be going to see a show. There was [a] woman next to us who was a little rude and was like, “Is he going to be able to sit through this?” My mom was like “Yes, don’t you worry.” She already knew that this is what I wanted to do. 
We [also] found a home movie recently [of] my first day of first grade, and my dad asked me what I want to be when I grow up and I was like “I want to do plays.” I definitely put on a lot of productions and shows in my basement. If friends were coming over they knew that’s what we were doing. We would put on “The Wizard of Oz” and my sister would be Dorothy, and I would be everyone else. 

Q: How long have you been in “Book of Mormon"?
A: I’ve been with the show for a little over two years. I started off out here on tour as the standby for elder Cunningham and then I was moved to the Broadway production to do the same thing. I was on the tour for about a year and then I was on Broadway for about a year. Now, I’m back out here getting to play the role full time. 

Q: What was that transition like, to go from the touring production to Broadway?
A: It was very exciting. It was nice because this company is really fantastic and it’s all the same creative team. Because I was doing the same job, it was nice because [there] wasn’t too much to learn. It was a welcoming environment. Everyone has been very supportive. 

Q: To go from being a standby to doing it full time, were you nervous?
A: I was nervous but very excited. It’s been something that I’ve wanted to do forever. To get to do it eight times a week is a dream come true [and] it’s definitely an adjustment. It’s an exciting thing to figure out my schedule to be able to do eight shows a week, like what I need to maintain for that and what I need to give myself. I think there were things that I needed to give myself as a standby that are different than the things I need to give myself now. 
As a standby, I had to be prepared at any time, where with this, I need to prepare to do it every day. Similar skill set, but with different elements of it. 

Q: That schedule of eight shows a week is rigorous. What are some of those things that you have to really give yourself now?
A: I try to get a lot of rest. There was this interview that I heard where Ethel Merman was talking about when she was doing Mama Rose in “Gypsy” when it first [took the stage], and she was like “I lived like a nun.” And I totally understand that sentiment, I try to rest a lot and I pay attention to what I’m eating and when I’m eating, and I check in on my voice. I’m not going out until 3 a.m. or anything like that. 

Q: Tell me about your character, who you’ve been playing for the better part of two years. 
A: I get to play Elder Cunningham, who is one of the missionaries. He’s maybe not as [much of a] star missionary as his companion, but he’s very eager. He wants to make friends and wants to have a wonderful experience. But he definitely might not be as well-versed as he should be in what he’s doing, and he’s not the ideal partner for elder Price, who he gets paired with. We get sent halfway around the world and we change through the process. 

Q: What do you find to be one of the most challenging aspects of the role?
A: You’re throwing a lot of energy out for about two and a half hours, for any of these roles, really the entire cast of the show. It’s a high-energy show and it’s fun, amazing comedy with layers and depth. So it’s kind of like a roller coaster: You get on and you don’t really get off until the end of the show. Which I think is also very exciting, that this character has such a wonderful arc. You don’t always see that with [characters] like this. 

Q: What is one of your favorite scenes to perform? 
A: One of my favorite things is the finale, because after we’ve done this entire show we get to celebrate together and with the audience, which is a really special moment. 

Q: What’s the best part of touring with the show?
A: There are a couple [of] things. The community that is created with the cast and crew touring is very cool because, like right now, I’m in Syracuse and I don’t really know anyone else who lives in Syracuse. So the people that I’m with, the cast and crew, are the people I’m going to get dinner with and spend time with. So it’s nice that we can create a family in that way. Also, it’s been really cool to see a lot of cities that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. This is my first time in Syracuse and it’s going to be my first time in Schenectady. I’m really excited to get to explore. I like good food, so I’ll definitely try to find a cool restaurant. 

Q: Is there anything you want people to know about the show?
A: The show really is brilliant. The writing is fantastic and I think some people still have a misconception that it’s only offensive. And it’s hilarious. It’s [from] the writers of "South Park," so it’s high comedy, it’s smart comedy and it definitely has a lot of language. It definitely can push those buttons, but underneath it all there’s this big, beautiful heart of the story and this message of “Believe what you believe.” I think that that’s amazing, and it’s been awesome when people come to the stage door after the show and they’re like, “I didn’t know if I was going to like this.” And then to hear that they had such a great time, they laughed so much and they enjoyed it for everything that it is. It’s a really smart musical in that way.   

'The Book of Mormon'

WHEN: Tuesday, May 14-Sunday, May 19

WHERE: Proctors 

TICKETS: $30.50-$115.50

MORE INFO: proctors.org


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