Few Broadway productions have garnered as much attention and fervor as “The Book of Mormon”.
After wowing sold-out Vancouver audiences in 2015, the winner of nine Tony Awards including ‘Best Musical’ is back again – this time for a two week engagement at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre beginning Tuesday, August 23.
‘The Book of Mormon’ is a whimsical, religious satire from the minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone; the four-time Emmy Award winners of the landmark animated series, “South Park”.
It tells the tale of two Mormon missionaries that travel to a Northern Ugandan village in an effort to share their scriptures with local inhabitants.
Cody Jamison Strand plays Elder Cunningham, one of the principal leads in the production touring Vancouver; a role he took over from actor Josh Gad on Broadway.
“I think it is very important to make the character your own,” he says, of assuming a role made famous and thereby so associated with a specific actor. “Josh Gad made this role iconic and created such a special part and everyone loves him!”
“But that being said, I don’t think anyone wants to see a Josh Gad impression, so while I may have taken things too far away from the source, I believe that it’s incredibly important as an actor to give an audience a worthwhile performance,” says Jamison.
Raised in small town South Dakota, Strand was bitten by the acting bug at an early age.
“My mother would always organize the church Christmas pageants and I had a recurring role of playing little Joseph in the nativity scene,” he recalls. “It’s always something I wanted to do, mostly because I am not very good at anything else and making people laugh is like a drug for me.”
“I initially saw ‘Book of Mormon’ back in 2012 when I was on Spring Break in my senior year of college and remember watching seeing the guy playing Elder Cunningham and thinking, ‘Wow – He’s amazing. Hold up – I look like him; I can sing like him and I can be funny like him,’ so I sort of thought, why couldn’t it be me? So I got an agent’s attention and they sent me in for an audition and the rest is history.”
That actually was his first theatrical audition, which was in New York City, no less.
Being a lifelong “South Park” fan and having seen every episode, Strand praises the show’s creators while routinely hearing from theatregoers that his portrayal of Elder Cunningham actually evokes an amalgam of a couple of the animated hit series most-beloved characters.
“I often get told I’m like a Butters and Cartman hybrid when I’m playing Cunningham,” he says. “These two guys [Stone and Parker] are just the smartest, funniest, most humble dudes you’ll ever meet. They’re just the bee’s knees.”
And where there’s Parker and Stones, there is sometimes subject matter called into question.
Clearly, there was controversy at the outset of “The Book of Mormon” as anytime the finger of fun is aimed squarely at religious dogma or its institutions, the fallout abounds.
With his own father a pastor, the actor used him as the production’s litmus test.
“He loves it,” declares Strand. “He just hit his twentieth time seeing the show. Same with my mom, but yes, the show is not shy about colourful language or material…but you know it’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker! They’re the masters of satire and they have a way of taking the absurd and using it in such a clever way in order to make their point even stronger. It is such a blessing. Shows with this kind of audience draw and staying power is rare these days. I mean, for every hit there are two dozen misses and this is a certifiable hit.”
As ‘The Book of Mormon’ gears up for its limited two-week engagement at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from August 23 – September 4, Strand looks forward to performing in the production he refers to as “a gift to play every night” before Vancouver audiences.
“I have never been to Vancouver so I am very excited because everyone can’t stop talking about how beautiful it is and I also heard there is a park filled with raccoons which is very exciting,” he says. “But I have played Toronto and it was amazing. I feel like Canadian audiences really embrace this show and it’s going to be a fun experience traveling around Canada and sharing this show with them.”
Tickets for “The Book of Mormon” are available at Ticketmaster at www.ticketmaster.ca or by calling 1-855-985-5000.
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