By Richard Schultz, November 2015 Issue.
Valley theater enthusiast and Broadway buffs have been waiting years for The Book of Mormon to finally descend upon ASU Gammage.
The wait is over, as this hit Broadway musical takes the stage Oct. 20-Nov. 8.
“I’m thrilled and excited that The Book of Mormon will be part of our 2015-2016 season,” said Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director, during a 2014 interview with Echo. “I’ve talked to Mormon leaders and funders. In all conversations, it is most clear to me that this musical is about having faith.”
The Book of Mormon follows two young missionaries who are sent to Uganda to try to convert citizens to the Mormon religion. One missionary, Elder Price, is an enthusiastic go-getter with a strong dedication to his faith, while his partner, Elder Cunningham, is a socially awkward but well-meaning nerd whose tendency to embroider the truth soon lands him in trouble.
Upon their arrival in Africa, Elders Price and Cunningham learn that in a society plagued by AIDS, poverty and violence, a successful mission may not be as easy as they expected.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone, best known for the animated comedy “South Park,” wrote the book and lyrics and co-created the music with Robert Lopez, a co-composer/co-lyricist of Avenue Q and Frozen. This 2011 nine-time Tony award winning musical is a throwback to old school musicals, but with a modern sensibility featuring big song-and-dance numbers accompanied by some old-fashioned Broadway belting. An equal opportunity offender, the show playfully pokes fun at religion, sexuality, poverty and race.
For an additional insight into the show, Echo reached out to cast member Brian Beach, who portrays Elder McKinley, one of the lead Mormon elders and the Church’s current District Leader in Uganda. McKinley is sexually attracted to men, but in denial of his feelings.
Beach, a veteran of two national tours of 9 to 5 and Disney’s High School Musical, grew up in Peoria, Illinois. He started in choir and his mom encouraged him to keep singing. Eventually, he fell into dance by helping a friend with a performance. In eighth grade, his mom urged him to audition for the musical Fame at a local community theatre. He was then hooked on performing and musicals. He later studied at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts, which lead to securing an agent and two jobs right after school.
In initially auditioning for The Book of Mormon, Beach said he was focused on capturing a spot in the ensemble.
“It happened like quick fire,” he said. “I went to the Equity chorus call and then to the dancer call. I got a callback for McKinley. I went through three work sessions and a final audition. All of this happened within a week and a half. The call came that I got the part and I left three days later.”
Regarding his approach to his character, Beach said he embraced some of their similarities.
“McKinley sings a song about turning off the gay. Like him, I was closeted, but I came out in New York,” he said. “I understand trying to fit in and fit the mold of being straight. Yet, I feel that I am stronger than McKinley. He has a lot of fear within himself.”
Life on the road has become second nature to Beach, who added that he especially enjoys playing tourist in each city where the tour stops.
“There is a rhythm you develop with the cast,” he said. “You travel, work and live together. It truly is one big family and you form friendships with the cast and crew.”
The vigorous touring schedule has not hampered his three-and-a-half-year relationship with his partner, Alec, who has a career in television and recently worked with Katie Couric.
Having toured twice to Arizona in the past, Beach looks forward to returning. Last time, he spent New Year’s Eve here while performing in Disney’s High School Musical.
When asked about this dream role in the theater, Beach exclaims, “I’m living it now. I’m enjoying every moment of this show.”