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On Sunday, the Tony-winning musical “Book of Mormon” formally opens its sold-out three-week run at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. (Previews of the show have been playing since Tuesday.) Although tickets are virtually impossible to get, the producers are conducting a lottery for each show that will admit another lucky two dozen patrons to some of the best seats in the house, an exercise that’s as exciting for the cast as it is for the winners. “I know it seems like a shot in the dark, but I’ve seen it happen,” says actor Gavin Creel (Elder Price). “There are 24 people that couldn’t get in during the regular sale, and it just ramps up the energy. We feed off that.”
Creel, a veteran stage actor who’s forged a burgeoning non-Broadway career as a pop singer, says “Book of Mormon” has been unlike anything he’s ever worked on. “This play is the perfect blend of classic and modern,” he says. “I’m in the framework of a Golden Age classic musical comedy, yet I’m dealing with things that are contemporary and exciting and fresh.”
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He adds that Denver crowds will see a production that combines all the best aspects of an established Broadway show with the creative wrinkles a touring company provides. “All the original people—producers, directors, Matt [Stone] and Trey [Parker]—are here and working with us,” Creel says. “A lot of times in touring companies those people will come in at the end, but the producers wanted to take what we learned in New York and elevate everything.”
Creel’s costar Jared Gertner (Elder Cunningham), who performed his role dozens of times on Broadway as the original Elder Cunningham’s understudy, says the touring company allows him and the rest of the cast to put their personal stamp on the piece. “It’s been so fulfilling creatively,” he says. “Gavin and I came at it like it was a whole new show. I knew all the lines already, but we created our version of it from the ground up. I’m so honored they’ve trusted me with it.”
The touring cast is so dialed in that “Book of Mormon” co-creator Robert Lopez, the Tony-winning composer behind “Avenue Q,” says he has less work to do on this version of the play than he normally might. “This cast brings out layers that weren’t there before,” he says, “so much so that I’ve been pretty unconcerned about my need to do anything here in Denver.”
In fact, like so many visiting performers before them, the crew’s biggest adjustment to Colorado has been our elevation. Although the players have reported everything from mild headaches to full-on altitude sickness, two weeks of rehearsals have helped them adapt. “I thought it was really tricky at the beginning, but we’re starting to adjust,” Gertner says. “I’d done the show many times on Broadway, but after I did the first song here, I was about ready to pass out. If this was just a stop on our tour and we would’ve showed up and opened right away—that wouldn’t have been pretty.”
Bonus: Read our interview with Trey Parker and Matt Stone.