Mormon star anticipates performances
The wait is over: The Book of Mormon is here.
With an astounding 14 2011 Tony nominations and 9 wins, including for best musical, best direction and best book, and a trail of sold out shows from New York City to Denver, the national tour of The Book of Mormon is making its stop in Los Angeles at the Pantages Theatre, open now until Nov. 25.
Jared Gertner, who acted as a standby for lead actor Josh Gad and eventually overtook the role on Broadway, steps into the role of Elder Cunningham but not without an honest appreciation of the transition.
âYou never really know when youâre a standby â youâre jumping into someone elseâs shoes hoping that you donât rock the boat too much, but can still make it your own,â Gertner said. âWhen they offered me the opportunity to take over the role on Broadway and come do the tour it felt like total validation, like they were happy with what Iâd done.â
Gad, who originally played the role and was nominated for the best performance Tony for his work, serves as inspiration for Gertner as he embarks on making the role uniquely his own on the tour.
âJosh is this unbelievable genius comedian and when he created the role, it was so distinctly him, and he has his own individual brand of comedy,â Gertner said. âI knew very quickly that I would never try to imitate that, because I would fail.â
In shifting from Broadway to the national tour platform, Gertner notices and appreciates the opportunity to get to know different areas of the country and see how people respond differently to the comedic aspects of the show. He calls it a âsociological experimentâ since the process gives him a creative challenge.
âWith a show like this thatâs so funny, the audience plays a major part in the experience of the show,â Gertner said. âSo the way they respond to things changes how we experience the show and, ultimately, how we do the show.â
When talking about his start with Mormon, Gertner remembers the passion from the production team. A collaboration of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone as well as Robert Lopez of Avenue Q, the show was a long time coming for Gertner â he grew up with South Park and boasts Avenue Q as one of his favorite musicals.
âI just wanted to get in the room, and so I auditioned,â he said. âWhen I got it, I felt so lucky because I got to watch the most brilliant people creating this mega-hit musical and eventually step in and do it. In the beginning I just learned so much by watching these people work.â
The hype following the show around the country has a surprising effect on how audiences have perceived the musical. The affiliation with Trey Parker and Matt Stone â coupled with the shock-factor of openly mocking religion â has led critics to describe the show as âlewd,â âcrudeâ and âblasphemous.â To that, Gertner issues a challenge.
âI just donât think itâs all that controversial,â he said. âI challenge people who think theyâre going to be offended to watch the whole show all the way through and see what weâre actually trying to say. Because itâs not just funny or offensive, itâs kind of beautiful.â
The Book of Mormon represents a paradigm shift in musical theater that is bringing in a different crowd: audiences of all ages, races and genders.
âMatt and Treyâs involvement has certainly brought in a newer audience,â Gertner said. âPeople that donât necessarily want to go to musicals, but want to come see their musical.â
With The Book of Mormonâs nearly sold out shows throughout its stay here in Los Angeles, tickets to the show arenât exactly a dime a dozen. What Gertner appreciates about Mormon audiences, though, isnât that theyâre willing to pay through the roof for tickets â itâs that even with the waiting and the expense, audiences are genuinely excited for the experience.
âPeople are coming in so excited for us and itâs like theyâve been waiting a year for us to arrive here … and theyâre ready to party,â Gertner said. âThatâs the most exciting thing, bringing this show to the country, full of people who couldnât wait for us to get there. That is a real honor.â