Show of good faith Y
‘Book of Mormon’ actor loves irreverent musical’s positive message
ears before he was cast in the lead role of the current national tour of “The Book of Mormon,” Kevin Clay had a memorable moment that prompted him to read the Book of Mormon.
Not the book to the irreverent ninetime Tony Award-winning musical. The actual sacred text of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that he said informs the cheeky song-anddance show in surprising ways.
“It was my freshman year ... so the show had just recently come out, and I was obsessed with the soundtrack. I devoured it. I was on the street one day at Penn State, and it was sort of late at night and these two girls were standing on the street — two sisters I would later come to find out — and they stopped and they were just sort of saying, ‘Hey, do you have time to chat about Jesus Christ?’ And I was feeling open and happy, and I was like, ‘Yeah. Sure, I would love to just stop and chat just for a few minutes.’ So, I did and they were really nice. And they were like ‘Do you know anything about The Book of Mormon?’ And I said, ‘Oh, OK, these are two Mormons. OK, the only thing I know about
The Book of Mormon’ — and
this is in my mind — ‘are the things that are in the musical,’ “Clay recalled with a laugh.
“So, I tried to dilute it and just give them the facts that I could expunge from the musical, and their eyes lit up and they were all excited. They said, ‘Wow, you actually seem to know a little bit about Joseph Smith and his experience.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, OK, so I guess the musical is kind of accurate,’ so they offered me a Book of Mormon, and I gladly accepted it.”
The Penn State University musical theater alumnus, 25, had no way of knowing six years ago when he read that complimentary copy of the Book of Mormon that his first job out of college would be performing on the national tour of the hit show, which is coming back to Oklahoma City by popular demand April 24-29 at Civic Center Music Hall.
“Obviously, there’s so much excitement about being in the show just because of how successful it is, and it still has that feeling of, ‘Oh man, I started off my career pretty strong.’ But outside of all that, I just love this show itself,” Clay said by phone from Tucson, Arizona. “It just felt so cool to see a ridiculous comedy show that also now every night I can feel really proud delivering its message as well. I think that’s why I can stay with a show like this for so long . ... I love that the message of the show is positivity.”
Rude and raunchy comedy
The 2011 Tony winner for best musical, “The Book of Mormon” follows two young missionaries — dedicated gogetter Elder Price (Clay) and truth-bending nerd Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson) — who are sent to Uganda to try to convert the denizens to the Mormon religion. When they get to Africa, though, the young elders soon realize that living with the hardships of AIDS, poverty and the tyranny of a warlord with a name that can’t be printed in a family publication has made the populace a bit of a hard sell when it comes to matters of faith.
“The Book of Mormon” boasts a Tony-winning book and score by “South Park” masterminds Trey Parker and Matt Stone and “Avenue Q” co-writer Robert Lopez, and it lives up to that pedigree with plenty of raunchy comedy, foul language and not-for-thee-a-sily-offended lyrics.
But Clay said there’s a sweetness and relatability under the rude humor, even when his character ends up with his copy of the Book of Mormon actually shoved where the sun doesn’t shine.
“I’m glad I get to be the one that gets to ride out on that gurney every night,” he said. “Some people ask, ‘How do you feel about the sacrilegious elements of the show?’ or ‘what do you tell people about the language?’ ... I’m always saying, yes, I think Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Bobby Lopez, they use some of these shockvalue moments to put ... you off balance, so that you as an audience member hopefully are in a more open place. But that’s not the point.
“The ridiculous aspects, the inappropriate elements of the show, are not what it’s about. It’s about actually finding what it means to be a faithful person for the betterment for your community, which I think is really great — and really useful right now in the world.”
First job out of college
His journey to the gurney began when he performed his senior showcase at Penn State for an invited group of casting agents.
“After that, I got an email from ‘Book of Mormon’ that was just a general, ‘Hey, we’d like to see you come in, add you to our files, so on,’ and I auditioned for them. And then it wasn’t until a couple months later ... I got another email saying, ‘OK, we have an actual opening in the ensemble of the second national tour ... and we’d like to bring you in to audition for us again,’ “he said.
Within a week’s time, he traveled back and forth between his hometown in Centreville, Virginia, and New York City four times for auditions, earning a spot on the national tour in fall 2015 as a member of the ensemble and understudy for the role of Elder Price. After about a year and a half, he moved up to the standby for Elder Price, and last fall, he took over the lead role.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints frequently buys advertising in the show’s playbills with slogans like “The book is better,” and Mormon missionaries often sit outside theaters where the musical is playing to talk to ticket holders. Clay said he still loves chatting with these Mormon missionaries as he travels across the country with “The Book of Mormon.”
“I just think it takes so much guts to be a missionary nowadays. It’s definitely something that’s not very common,” he said. “Most kids start their mission when they’re about 18 years old, and they’re really putting themselves out there. So, I like to give them positive affirmation in that what they’re doing, I think, is a noble cause, no matter what religion you are.”
The current national tour of “The Book of Mormon” will return to Oklahoma City by popular demand April 24-29 at Civic Center Music Hall.
Kevin Clay plays Elder Price in the current national tour of “The Book of Mormon.”
From left, Monica L. Patton, Kevin Clay and Conner Peirson appear in the current national tour of “The Book of Mormon.”