Currently the no. 2 highest-grossing musical on Broadway, The Book of Mormon
is the story of two young Mormon missionaries, Elder Arnold Cunningham and Elder Kevin Price, who are sent to Uganda to convert the locals. It's irreverent, hilarious, and full of great music, to boot — the show won nine Tony Awards when it premiered in 2011, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Orchestration — and it opened at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center last night (the show runs through Sun. Feb. 15).
The Book of Mormon
was a labor of love by Trey Parker, Matt Stone (South Park
co-creators) and Robert Lopez, the co-composer and co-lyricist behind the puppet musical Avenue Q
. Conceived in 2003, the show went through seven years of sporadic development before opening.
We caught up with Cody Jamison Strand, who plays Elder Cunningham in the U.S. touring company.
Cody Jamison Strand as Elder Arnold Cunningham
: Tell us about your character, Arnold Cunningham.
Cody Jamison Strand
: Elder Cunningham is the lovable loser who tries way too hard to fit in and is always unsuccessful. He’s just trying to find his place in the world. And an extra challenge is that he’s sent to Uganda.
: Do you have any experience with Mormons or Mormonism?
: I knew a few Mormon families growing up, but I don't really have much experience to draw on for the show.
: Where did you grow up?
: I was born and raised in South Dakota — I never left until after I graduated from the University of South Dakota, and moved to New York. I graduated in May 2012, and I got the job for Book of Mormon
in November 2012.
: Do you play the role on Broadway as well?
I started on the first national tour when I was the standby for the role [of Elder Cunningham], and in May of 2013 they moved me to Broadway where I took over playing the role full-time. Then in January of 2014 they moved me to this tour.
: The show's so well-known now that's it's really a part of musical theater culture, but have you ever encountered any opposition to The Book of Mormon? Do people ever get mad about it in cities where you travel?
: I don’t think people get angry about it now that the show’s been around for so long — it's not like we're trying to hide the fact that it was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. And as far as the Mormon response to it, it's actually been very positive. They have advertisements in every playbill.