The Book of Mormon may refer to the sacred text of the Latter-Day Saints movement in some circles, but in Broadway's case it's a hit Tony-winning musical. From the twisted minds of the creators of South Park and Avenue Q, this production not only took home Best Musical from the Tonys but also won a Grammy that year.
The story revolves around two Mormon missionaries sent to a village in Uganda to convert locals. Things go awry when the village people are more concerned about war, famine and AIDS than being converted.
Ben Platt plays Elder Cunningham, a missionary sent to Uganda who happens to have a love for Star Wars and Lord of the Rings that he mixes with religion. Platt recently made his cinematic debut in Pitch Perfect and has nationally toured with the musical Caroline, or Change.
Windy City Times talked to him right before he arrived for the huge Chicago opening.
Windy City Times: Hello, Ben. What is your acting history?
Ben Platt: I'm from L.A. My whole family grew up there. My dad was in business. Everyone sang and performed growing up. I was singing as young as 3 and 4 years old, doing showtunes in school. I then grew into working at the few venues that they have there for theater in L.A. As I got older, I started venturing into New York more often doing readings and workshops. I did a tour of Caroline, or Change. I took time off to do the movie Pitch Perfect and [am] now doing Book of Mormon.
WCT: Everyone wanted a role in Mormon. How was the experience of auditioning?
Ben Platt: It was crazy. It is kind of an unusual cast because of how it came about. I had tried in the first round of castings but I was told "too young" right away. Fast forward to this past August. I got a call from the creative team that they had saw me in Pitch Perfect and thought that would translate very well into Book of Mormon and [the role of Elder] Cunningham. I went in and ended up going back three times, the last one being onstage in New York with Nic Rouleau. We clicked and they offered me Chicago. Here I am!
WCT: Tell our readers about Elder Cunningham.
Ben Platt: It is a unique experience. I was not clearly going to be able to replicate the role but that is my favorite part of having my own take on things. From my point of view he is socially awkward, eager and doesn't understand social cues. He just wants to fit in and be loved. He wants a best friend. He's the kind of guy that everyone has in their group of friends. He's just slightly off but his intentions are great. It's been really fun because before I didn't usually play the outcast character.
WCT: Being the show's first time in Chicago, can you describe it for people that didn't go to New York and know nothing about it?
Ben Platt: There is something for everyone in it. They get that great South Park humor. It is belly laughs from beginning to end. It is also a real love letter to musical theater. There are great dance numbers, spectacle, and all the things you love about great theater. It is some of the most hilarious writing I've ever seen.
WCT: Does it poke fun at religion?
Ben Platt: That is the platform it uses, but is not so concerned with the religion itself. It is more being fascinated by the Mormon religion. The rules, regulations and traditions of Mormons are the platform of the comedy. You get a taste of religion but that is not the main point.
WCT: Are LGBT topics covered in the show?
Ben Platt: Yes, there are some great innuendos to look forward to in that arena. I won't give it away but there is a particular number that pokes fun at that. That is my personal favorite.
Ben Platt: For the rehearsal process, yes.
WCT: I heard you did a reading of Alice By Heart from Duncan Sheik. What is that show about?
Ben Platt: It is sort of like a Spring Awakening type of show as a take on Alice in Wonderland. It is Alice as a teenager going back into the book and she is too old for everything. Through friends that knew Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, we did some workshops with it. Now it is at the National Theatre in London being used in their youth program.
WCT: Are you going to have any fun on your off time in Chicago?
Ben Platt: I have a lot of personal friends in Chicago but have never been here for an extended period. I think we are all excited to get to know the city and get a feel for it. We will try out all the touristy things in the first two weeks hopefully. We couldn't be happier as to where we have been stationed!
Book of Mormon preaches the word at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., currently running now until at least Sept. 8. Visit www.broadwayinchicago.com for tickets and show times.