In 2011, the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” opened to rave reviews and box office records at New York City’s Eugene O’Neill Theatre.
Today, the riveting stage production is selling out theaters across the country as part of a national tour, which is currently playing the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“The Book of Mormon,” which was written by Oscar-winning “Frozen” composer Robert Lopez and “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, follows a pair of Mormon missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, as they are paired up to take part in a two-year mission in northern Uganda.
“[Elder Price] is your perfect, All-American guy who has everything going for him,” said actor Daxton Bloomquist, who plays Mormon missionary Elder McKinley in the touring production. “And then he’s partnered with someone [Elder Cunningham] a little bit more awkward, who has social nuances that people think are weird. He’s just very, very eccentric.”
Upon arrival in Africa, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham quickly realize that the native men and women in their small village are far more concerned with starvation, disease and a ferocious warlord than learning about the Mormon religion. And to make matters worse, the group of Mormon missionaries already in place – including Bloomquist’s Elder McKinley – has yet to baptize a single villager, and Cunningham reveals he’s never actually read the Book of Mormon.
“Each one of those characters have their own struggles that they’re going through, and we get to see those two characters grow and learn about themselves,” Bloomquist told me. “By the end of the show, you see a change in both of these young boys, who are now turning into young men. And to not give anything away, I think the end of the story is about personal growth between two guys who would never be friends in their past lives. And now they turn into this friendship that will last forever.”
“The Book of Mormon” is not for those with delicate sensibilities. The show is crass, profane and pulls no punches when satirizing race, religion and sex. But that’s exactly why the show has struck a chord with so many audiences.
Check out the rest of my interview with Daxton Bloomquist, who was a swing on the Broadway cast of “Mormon” before joining the tour, to find out why he thinks this is the “perfect holiday show.”
David Onda: Can you start out by telling me a little bit about yourself?
Daxton Bloomquist: I’m originally from Kansas. I grew up there, I went to college there. I was an athlete growing up. I didn’t do much musical theater growing up in a small town. I started dancing in college and I learned that I really enjoyed musical theater. I moved to New York City right after college and pounded the pavement for about a year without getting any kind of work. And then I booked a Disney Cruise Ship. I did that for a year and then I moved back and pretty quickly I got “The Book of Mormon” about six weeks after. I’ve been that ever since.
Onda: Having performed in the Broadway version of the show, how does it compare to the touring production?
Bloomquist: I will never say I like one better than the other. Each company has different energy levels, different types of energy, different types of people and how you interact with people on stage. With Broadway, I was learning how to work at that caliber of theater. I got to work with 90% of the original cast. I got to really learn from Broadway veterans, so I felt very, very fortunate, because I was very green in terms of the Broadway theater scene. And when I moved to the tour, I moved on tour to play a role this time. I was asked to play Elder McKinley, and I think the different is I’m in more of a leadership role where I’m the veteran in terms of setting good examples, having high energy on stage. I think that’s the difference between the two. Both casts are fun, both casts were and are great. You would get the exact same type of show if you saw it on Broadway or on tour. The quality is very good on both levels. You are definitely seeing a top-notch Broadway show on tour.
Onda: What do you love about Elder McKinley?
Bloomquist: What I love about Elder McKinley is he has the same qualities as Price in terms of – he is the best at everything. He has the top scores in class, he’s always in charge, everybody listens to him, he has a very strong presence about him, but he struggles with some internal issues. I don’t like to give away Elder McKinley’s secret, but he does have these internal struggles that he’s dealing with and it’s really fun to watch him grow into be accepting of himself. That’s what I love about Elder McKinley. He’s so good-hearted, but he wants so hard to be the best, and he’s just not quite accepting of himself to be there yet. And hopefully when I do it, I can portray that it’s OK to be who you are and have fun with who you are.
Onda: You’ve watched other actors perform this character, so how do you make it your own and not instinctually mimic someone else’s performance?
Bloomquist: That was a tough thing for me when I went in and auditioned for the understudy of Elder McKinley before they actually asked me to do it. I went in and I was like, “I have to bring a sense of Daxton. I have to bring a sense of who I am into the role.” And I think we can all relate with repressing something, and so I try to take that from myself. Of course, I like some things that the other guys did. One of my favorite [McKinley actors], he does a lot of things that I loved. I tried to do them and I was like, “If it works, don’t try to fix it.” But it wouldn’t work for me. I wasn’t getting laughs. It wasn’t looking real and authentic. And my associate directors were so helpful in trying to turn it into what Daxton’s McKinley would do. So, I definitely fell into that trap, but I also got out of the trap. I think I bring a pretty authentic, different type of McKinley that you wouldn’t see on Broadway or anywhere else. I’m so thankful that the creative team has let me play with it, because sometimes when you get into the shows that run forever, they want you to be a carbon copy.
Onda: Each night you go on stage, what is the scene you’re most excited to perform for the audience?
Bloomquist: I love “Turn It Off.” That’s McKinley’s big coming out number, if you will. I absolutely love doing “Turn It Off.” It’s hard. It’s very difficult. It takes a lot of focus still. I’ve done it a lot, but it’s definitely the most fulfilling thing I’ve done in a theatrical experience, and I still have a lot of fun doing it. That’s the number that I’m all about.
Onda: Have you ever met any actual Mormons who’ve seen the show?
Bloomquist: Yeah, absolutely. There’s some liberal Mormons out there that love the show. I know the show went to Salt Lake City, and I know it sold very, very well there. I think it sold out. Some ex-Mormons, Mormons who have left the church, have seen it and they absolutely love it. We do have one Mormon girl in our show that still is a practicing Mormon, and there’s a Mormon boy who has left the church, and he’s in our show currently right now. They both seem pretty high-spirited about it. One of my cast members, who is Mormon, she was just like, “It’s a play and it’s just words.” They’re very nice people. I don’t think I ever met a Mormon that I didn’t like. They’re very, very sweet people. They have really good intentions in life and they wanna do good as much they can, so I think that helps when they see the show. We don’t bash the Mormons. We really don’t.
Onda: Why should people spend the money to check out “The Book of Mormon”?
Bloomquist: It’s absolutely great theater. You’re not gonna see a better-written musical. I think it’s perfect for the holiday season, honestly. If you haven’t seen it, you would probably roll your eyes and be like, “How can this be the perfect holiday show?” It honestly has such an awesome message that if you get through all the jokes and all the bad words and some of the racy things we do on stage, you really understand that we all learn something as the Mormon boys. It’s a show that has a lot of heart, and I think the reason it is so successful and the reason people do keep coming back and seeing it is because there’s a heart in it. And at the very end, you realize that we all are humans and we should just love each other. That’s what, I think, the message really does bring at the end. Why can’t we just love one another? What better holiday message can you give? I think it should be a Christmas show, because it teaches us all a lesson through laughter and jokes and it brings you out of your comfort zone. You’re not gonna sit back and relax and be like, “I’m just gonna enjoy two and a half hours.” You’re gonna be invested for two and a half hours. It’s just good live theater.
Onda: You’ve sold me.
Bloomquist: [laughs] I really believe it. I’m getting ready to start my fourth year of the show, so I really believe in the show. I love it so much. It’s changed my life. We say this a couple times in the show – we say, “This book will change your life.” And it certainly did, and it continues to.
“The Book of Mormon” is now playing at the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia through December 27. When is the show playing in a theater near you? Click her for more info.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.