Show of good faith Y

‘Book of Mor­mon’ ac­tor loves ir­rev­er­ent mu­si­cal’s pos­i­tive mes­sage

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SUNDAY LIFE -

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.”

BY JULIETA CERVANTES] [PHOTO

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.

[PHOTO BY JULIETA CERVANTES]

Kevin Clay plays El­der Price in the cur­rent na­tional tour of “The Book of Mor­mon.”

Brandy McDon­nell bm­c­don­nell@ oklahoman.com

BAM

[PHOTO BY JULIETA CERVANTES]

From left, Mon­ica L. Pat­ton, Kevin Clay and Con­ner Peir­son ap­pear in the cur­rent na­tional tour of “The Book of Mor­mon.”

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