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“The Book of Mormon” Is a 2011 Tony Award®-Winning Musical from the Creators of “South Park”

"The Book of Mormon" cast at the Durham Performing Arts Center includes Mark Evans (left) as Elder Price and Derrick Williams as the General with the obscene name (photo by Joan Marcus)

“The Book of Mormon” cast at the Durham Performing Arts Center includes Mark Evans (left) as Elder Price and Derrick Williams as the General with the obscene name (photo by Joan Marcus)

The Durham Performing Arts Center will present The Book of Mormon, the rollicking, R-rated Tony Award®-winning musical from the four-time Emmy Award-winning creators of the cheeky and sometimes foul-mouthed animated series “South Park” and the co-creator of Avenue Q: The Musical, on Feb. 11-16 and 18-23 in its 2,700-seat, state-of-the-art theater in the American Tobacco District in downtown Durham, NC.

The Book of Mormon made its Broadway debut — co-directed by Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw and choreographed by Nicholaw — on March 24, 2011 at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, where it is still playing with 1,203 performances in the book as of Feb. 9, 2014. The musical, which features music, lyrics, and book by “South Park’s” Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Avenue Q’s Robert Lopez, won nine 2011 Tonys, including the awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score Written for the Theatre, plus the 2011 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, five 2011 Drama Desk Awards including Best Musical, four 2011 Outer Critics Circle Awards including Best Musical, and the 2011 Drama League Award for Best Musical. The show’s original cast album also won the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.

The Book of Mormon is a really fast-paced, hilarious show,” says Christopher John O’Neill, who plays roly-poly Elder Arnold Cunningham, who mixes “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” stories with scripture as he tries to convert Ugandan villagers. O’Neill adds, “There’s definitely some language in the show that would be R-rated — after all it’s from the creators of ‘South Park’ — but people will leave the theater with big smiles on their faces.

“The show isn’t trying to use a bunch of bad words to offend people,” O’Neill explains, “but those words are necessary for what the show does.”

The First National Tour company for "The Book of Mormon" includes (from left) dancer Phyre Hawkins, Mark Evans as Elder Price, and Christopher John O'Neill as Elder Cunningham (photo by Joan Marcus)

The First National Tour company for “The Book of Mormon” includes (from left) dancer Phyre Hawkins, Mark Evans as Elder Price, and Christopher John O’Neill as Elder Cunningham (photo by Joan Marcus)

According to Chris O’Neill, “The Book of Mormon is a show about faith. It’s basically a look at religion in general.”

He adds, “My character is kind of a train wreck…. He’s a big nerd. He loves Star Wars and Star Trek. He’s definitely not up to par with the other Mormons who study scripture…. He tries to adapt the lessons of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings to The Book of Mormon.”

The 31-year-old actor was born and raised in Stamford, CT. His father is a Juilliard-trained pianist, and his mother an eighth-grade special-ed schoolteacher.

“I did some high school theater; and then I moved to New York City with my comedy partner, Paul Valenti, and we did a two-man sketch-comedy act called ‘The Chris and Paul Show‘”

Valenti and O’Neill toured internationally; and while they were playing the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, they were spotted by a casting director for The Book of Mormon. Both of them are short and stocky — O’Neill is 5-foot-6 and weighs 190 lbs. — so they fit the physical profile for Elder Cunningham.

“They asked both of us to audition,” recalls Chris O’Neill. He adds, “We didn’t think it was going to happen for either one of us.” So, there was no tension during the audition process. In fact, O’Neill says, “We’re still working together every day, writing for the next project we’re going to do together.”

The audition process for his first professional acting role was rigorous, O’Neill says, “Every day for about a month, I worked with a voice teacher to improve my range; and I learned the script, so I was able to do the show eight times a week.

“The hardest part of the audition,” says O’Neill, “was getting my voice in shape for eight shows. I hadn’t done any singing since high school, and my character is on the stage for about 98 percent of the show.”

In preparing to play Elder Cunningham, O’Neill says, “I researched Mormon missionaries and some of their scripture…. They are very nice people. They’re clean cut and don’t swear.”

By contrast, O’Neill confesses, “I am kind of a nutball…. Elder Cunningham is just a fun, spastic character…. I basically get to run around and act like an idiot for two-and-a-half hours…. It doesn’t take much for me to transform into that character.”

Christopher John O'Neill (far right) as Elder Cunningham mixes "Star Wars" and "The Lord of the  Rings" stories with scripture as he tries to convert Ugandan villagers (photo by Joan Marcus)

Christopher John O’Neill (far right) as Elder Cunningham mixes “Star Wars” and “The Lord of the
Rings” stories with scripture as he tries to convert Ugandan villagers (photo by Joan Marcus)

Directed by Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw and choreographed by Nicholaw, the First National Tour of The Book of Mormon features sets by Scott Pask, costumes by Ann Roth, and lighting by Brian MacDevitt. The show also features orchestrations by Larry Hochman and Stephen Oremus, musical direction and vocal arrangements by Stephen Oremus, and sound design by Brian Ronan.

In addition to Chris O’Neill as Elder Cunningham, the cast of the First National Tour includes Mark Evans as Cunningham’s teammate Elder Kevin Price, who wishes he were in Orlando, FL; Grey Henson as the Mormon Church’s district leader Elder McKinley; Stanley Wayne Mathis as Price and Cunningham’s tour Ugandan guide Mafala Hatimbi; Samantha Marie Ware as his daughter Nabulungi, who dreams of visiting “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” (Salt Lake City); Ron Bohmer as Missionary Training Center Voice/Price’s Dad/Joseph Smith/Mission President; and Derrick Williams as the murderous warlord General, whose complete name is too obscene name to print here.

The rest of the cast includes (in alphabetical order): dance captain Colin Bradbury, Josh Breckenridge, J.R. Bruno, Michael Buchanan, Jonathan Cullen (standby Elder Price), Josh Daniel, Dayna Jarae Dantzler, Trevon Davis, Bobby Daye, Christopher Faison, Logan Hart, Phyre Hawkins, Carole Denise Jones, Daniel Leclaire, Antyon Lemonte, Adam Levinskas, Laiona Michelle, Kevin Michael Murphy, Rashad Naylor, Dana Joel Nicholson (standby Elder Cunningham), Lacretta Nicole, Jeffrey David Sears, Kristopher Thompson-Bolden, Zurin Villanueva, and Jamaal Wilson .

Chris O’Neill say the First National Tour is the same exact show as the show on Broadway. He adds, “Everyone in the cast might have different takes on the tics their characters have. We’re just traveling around to different theaters for two weeks at a time. Other than that, everything is the same….

The Book of Mormon is the funniest thing that I’ve ever seen,” claims Chris O’Neill. “Once you get past a couple of bad words, it’s an amazing show…. Come with an open mind, and you’ll have a very good time.”

SECOND OPINION: Feb. 6th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/entertainment/x1385734772/Pushing-boundaries-in-The-Book-of-Mormon-musical (Note: You must register to read this article).

The Durham Performing Arts Center presents THE BOOK OF MORMON at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 11-13, 8 p.m. Feb. 14, 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 15, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 16, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18-20, 8 p.m. Feb. 21, 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 22, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco District.

TICKETS: $64.50-$156.00 (including fees).

BOX OFFICE:

DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), tickets@dpacnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/how_to_buy_tickets.

Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/1732682.

NOTE: There will be a “ticket lottery” at the DPAC Box Office, starting two-and-a-half hours before each performance. Winners may buy up to two tickets each for $25 apiece, cash only. For details, click here.

SHOW: http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/the-book-of-mormon and https://www.facebook.com/events/344716948971677/.

THE TOUR: http://www.bookofmormonbroadway.com/1st_national_tour.php, https://www.facebook.com/BookofMormonMusicalTour, and https://twitter.com/BookMormonTour (Twitter page).

VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/user/BookOfMormonBroadway?feature=watch.

PRESENTER: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, and https://twitter.com/DPAC.

DPAC NEWS RELEASES: http://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/the-book-of-mormon-announces-lottery-ticket-policy-at-dpac and http://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/the-book-of-mormon-at-dpac-public-on-sale-october-26.

SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series.

VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, and https://twitter.com/DPAC.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan_your_visit/getting_here.

PARKING: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan_your_visit/parking_guide.

OTHER LINKS:

The Book of Mormon (2011 Broadway and 2013 West End musical): http://www.bookofmormonthemusical.com/ (official website), http://www.bookofmormonbroadway.com/ (official North American website), http://bookofmormonlondon.com/home.php (official London website), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=488720 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/TheBookOfMormonOnBroadway (Facebook page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_Mormon_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia.

Original Broadway Cast Recording: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqVzjnENlgA (fan page).

Trey Parker (music, lyrics, and book): http://www.southparkstudios.com/fans/behind/creator-bios (official “South Park” bio) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trey_Parker (Wikipedia.

Robert Lopez (music, lyrics, and book): https://www.facebook.com/bobbylopez1 (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/lopezbobby (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Lopez (Wikipedia.

Matt Stone (music, lyrics, and book): http://www.southparkstudios.com/fans/behind/creator-bios (official “South Park” bio) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Stone (Wikipedia).

Christopher John O’Neill (actor): https://twitter.com/Chrisoshow (Twitter page) and http://www.youtube.com/user/theCHRISandPAULshow (“The Chris and Paul Show”).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing robertm748@aol.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail robertm748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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