Since it opened on Broadway in March 2011, “The Book of Mormon” has been a must-see.
Nominated for 13 Tony awards, and winner of nine, the innovative show is returning to the Twin Cities for a second time in just three years.
The musical tells the story of a young Mormon looking to spread his faith while on his mission. However, his trouble starts when he gets paired with a struggling Mormon student and the pair gets sent to Uganda.
With its in-your-face-humor combined with bold subject matter yet traditional theatrical styling the show entertains and delights both returning and new theater goers.
In its latest national tour, a Minnesotan will appear on stage. Edward Watts parents lived in Prior Lake for 10 years. During that time, he would spend his summers working in Minneapolis.
Watts will take on the rolls of Edler Price’s father, Joseph Smith and the Mission President.
Watts took the time to chat about his experience portraying the creator of the Mormon faith, and how if they don’t offend at least one person a night they aren’t doing their job as actors.
One of your characters in the show is Joseph Smith. What is it like to play the leader and founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Watts: The Joseph Smith that I play is a heightened version that appears in the minds of our two leads, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, so it’s a different performance than I would give if it was, say, the story of Joseph Smith and his founding of the church. It is still fun to play though because I get to react to the unorthodox ideas that Elder Cunningham dreams up to try and persuade the Ugandans to join the church. On the other hand, I reenact Elder Price’s perfect notion of the early days of the church, so it’s two very different ways to tell the story.
Sounds like you get a bit of the best of both worlds. You get a chance to show the story of the church, but then get to act a bit in the imagination of the writers and Elder Cunningham. Tell me, what is your favorite scene in the show?
Watts: I most enjoy when I get to sit on stage as the Mission President and watch the amazingly talented company of this show perform the pageant in Act II. Staying in character and not laughing at all the crazy stuff they are doing is sometimes quite a challenge!
I can imagine it’s very difficult not to laugh at the jokes in this show! I would have a hard time with that. Aside from the humor in this, what is one of the most fun parts about being in this show?
Watts: From an on-stage perspective, I’d say it’s the multiple character thing. It’s a fun challenge to leap between them literally from one moment to the next. The most fun part of being in the production in general is working with such talented people, and getting to travel to so many parts of this country that I’ve never been before. I ticked off my last state in the U.S. just a few months ago! I’ve been to all 50!
That is actually one of my goals! How amazing that theater enabled you to accomplish going to all 50 states. So, how has this show differed from the other musical tours you’ve been on?
Watts: Although I have been in tours of some other popular musicals, such as “Les Miserable” and “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Book Of Mormon” is the biggest and funniest production I’ve ever been a part of. It’s amazing to see a different kind of audience come to the theater, and also see more conservative theater goers really embrace and enjoy this show. I also don’t do as much in this show as I’ve done in the others, but getting to play multiple characters throughout the performance, and making each one different enough that the audience doesn’t even know it’s the same actor playing them, is very challenging.
I can imagine it takes a lot of concentration to make sure each character is distinct and that you are playing the right character at the right time. What would someone be surprised to learn about “The Book of Mormon?”
Watts: Perhaps it would be the thing that was surprising to me when I first saw it way back in workshops and previews in New York – that for such a contemporary and “edgy” modern musical, it’s creation and presentation are rooted in very traditional musical theater storytelling techniques. In everything from painted drops and different level platforms, to spinning door frames and scenes downstage in front of the curtain, it’s built like an old school musical. Matt, Trey, Bobby and the rest of the production team were very smart in how they developed the show for the stage; using classic scenic elements instead of trying to heap some Avant-garde technique onto an already ground-breaking and innovative show.
“The Book of Mormon” was such an innovative show and has been such a big hit, even with Mormon audiences. Why do you think that is?
Watts: I think it’s because at its core, it’s a beautifully crafted piece of theater that tells an uplifting and ultimately very positive story about faith and belief in humanity. The fact that it does so with contemporary humor probably appeals to the wider audience, and the fact that it starts a conversation about the Mormon faith pleases the church.
Despite having a uplifting message as you mentioned, the humor can be a bit boundary-pushing. Have you ever encountered an audience that wasn’t thrilled with some of the humor?
Watts: Not an entire audience, no, but certainly there are people who don’t appreciate or understand the humor of the show and how boldly it’s presented. But I kind of see that as a good thing. If at least one person doesn’t get up and leave then I don’t think we’re doing our job. This is art, and art should push boundaries and make people think. This show especially has chosen to perhaps go so far as to leap over those boundaries, and some people just aren’t ready for that. But for the rest, it’s eye opening and thought-provoking and heartwarming.
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