Tony Award-winning play ‘The Book of Mormon’ coming to Scranton Cultural Center
Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the Emmy Award-winning animated series “South Park,” made their theatrical debut in 2011 to rave reviews. Their transition from writing big musical numbers for little, foul-mouthed cartoon characters to writing a full-on Broadway worthy musical was both seamless and a huge success.
“The Book of Mormon,” winner of nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book, is coming to the Scranton Cultural Center four years after its premiere on Broadway. The production’s national tour will take residency in Scranton Oct. 27 through Nov. 1.
Cody Jameson Strand is a 26-year-old actor who landed his first job after leaving South Dakota for New York City upon graduating college. He plays the role of Elder Cunningham in the critically-acclaimed production. He has been with the show for three years and has worked in the company on Broadway and on tour.
The book, music and lyrics for the play were written by Parker, Stone and Robert Lopez, who also co-created the long-running hit musical comedy, “Avenue Q.” Tony Award-winning choreographer, Casey Nicholaw, of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” fame, took the helm on BOM as well. The production was directed by Parker and Nicholaw.
Strand, of a generation who not only knows Parker and Stone but knows them as comic geniuses, commented on his experience in their production.
“It’s amazing, not only the chance to perform material that they’ve written, but we’ve gotten the chance to work with them,” Strand said. “Trey came in when we were in L.A. and he coached us on scene work. It’s been an incredible experience, and not to mention that the show is so damn good. It’s so funny and it’s just a treat to perform.”
The comedy follows two Mormon youths who travel to Africa on a religious mission and encounter a world concerned with much different things than how its people choose to be spiritual.
“To describe the show in a nutshell, two Mormon missionaries get sent on their mission to Uganda and hilarity ensues,” Strand said.
The young Broadway veteran has gotten a look into comedy from Parker, widely considered to be among those modern-day comedians succeeding in making analyses of current sociopolitical issues a matter of clever, insightful and sometimes vulgar joking.
“It’s learning from the master, not only because he wrote the show, but because the man knows how to dissect comedy like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
Strand said Parker and Stone made an almost natural evolution into their theatrical venture because of how musical and character-driven their previous work has been.
“They’ve always (had a) knack for catchy music and lyrics but also for satire,” Strand said. “It was only a matter of time until they came out with something.”
Strand talked about the concept of taking a Broadway production on national tour and reaching people who might have an inability to travel to New York City to see the shows.
“It’s bringing quality theater to people who don’t get it,” he said. “Growing up in South Dakota, that’s all I got were tours. I knew all about those, so getting on one was pretty special.”
The actor also addressed his affinity for performing in small theaters like the Scranton Cultural Center.
“I like playing the smaller theaters, because the show on Broadway is at the Eugene O’Neill theater, and that’s only an 1100 seat theater,” Strand said. “So it’s pretty small, and the show kind of works in a more intimate setting, because people are closer. Also, you don’t have to try so hard for jokes to land.”
“The Book of Mormon,” which uses comedy to examine matters of spirituality, has been somewhat controversial, garnering interest from those who believe it is offensive to some spiritual sensibilities, but Strand says the moral of the story is hopeful and not intended to put people off.
“If the show didn’t touch on certain things, there would be no growth in the characters, but also the main message of the show is it doesn’t matter what you believe, if you make things up or if you break the rules, so long as we work together to make this our paradise planet,” Strand said.
“Does it take some twists and turns getting there? Absolutely, but they’re totally necessary to the story, I believe. And, also, it’s not like we’re picking on anyone in particular because no stone is left unturned.”
Tickets are available at the Cultural Center box office, 420 N. Washington Ave, by calling 800-745-3000 or by visiting www.BroadwayInScranton.com. Group orders of 15 or more may be placed by calling 570-342-7784. Tickets range from $50 to $125.
The production will conduct a pre-show lottery to select patrons for a limited number of tickets at a reduced price of $25. Beginning two and a half hours prior to each performance, entries will be accepted at the box office. Only one entry per person is allowed.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or [email protected].