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  Windy City Times

Pierce Cassedy is a stormin' 'Mormon'
NUNN ON ONE: THEATER Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2013-07-23

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Fresh from the twisted minds of the creators of South Park, The Book of Mormon swept the Tonys with multiple awards in 2011.

The story of two young Mormon missionaries being sent to a small village in Uganda struck a chord with audiences and became the hot ticket to get on Broadway.

In the national tour of the show Pierce Cassedy plays Elder McKinley. He's performed in some regional theater in the past with Oklahoma and Evita but this is his big Broadway show break.

We met up at Starbucks for some coffee talk to learn the skinny on the gay Mormon.

Windy City Times: Hi, Pierce. You are originally from Florida?

Pierce Cassedy: Tallahassee, Fla.

WCT: Were you always into theater?

Pierce Cassedy: I kind of always was. I went to a private school growing up so they put on a musical for every single class so with three classes of students there were 30 people in every little show every single year. I was Willy Wonka in my first play in second grade when I was 7 years old.

I kept doing it and got more involved in theater and the arts. I decided I wanted to do this for my career. I worked my ass off to get into a good school. Long story short, here I am!

WCT: You did a few shows before this one, correct?

Pierce Cassedy: Out of school, this is my first professional show. I did a children's touring show about the constitution right before this. I had to end that contract early to come and be a part of this spectacular show.

WCT: You wanted to be in The Book of Mormon before and didn't happen, right?

Pierce Cassedy: I auditioned for the show four different times. I showed up to an open call one time and got "typed out," which means they looked at all of our head shots and based on your look decided who should stay and who should go. They let me go but it didn't deter me.

WCT: Did you want this particular part in it?

Pierce Cassedy: I had actually never seen the show so I didn't even know about this role. When I read it though it was really witty and made me laugh, which is something that is hard to do. When I was college I wanted to do it so sang from the show for my showcase. The casting director for the show had seen me and called me in for the role. I didn't know what production it was for or when they needed somebody. Two days later I moved to Chicago. It was really a world wind! I couldn't believe it happened and never thought it would.

For it to happen after the children's show, when I was moving my own set into gymnasiums and bringing my own costumes on a touring show, this was really a 180 degree turn.

WCT: What was the name of that show?

Pierce Cassedy: We the People. I played a mean Thomas Jefferson.

WCT: Was this like Schoolhouse Rock?

Pierce Cassedy: Basically, we were a boy-band group. It was me, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. It was a fun mess!

WCT: You worked at a theater in Illinois before, though.

Pierce Cassedy: That was in college over a summer about two hours south of here. I actually got to work with Corey Hummerston who is in the cast of Book of Mormon with me now. I played Che in Evita in school.

WCT: He is Latin...

Pierce Cassedy: I know. That was the last role I ever thought I would get to play but it was kind of my big thing in school. It was the only lead role I got. You should have seen my makeup! I had facial hair and prosthetics. They couldn't change my eyes from being blue, though.

WCT: Had you been to Chicago before?

Pierce Cassedy: A few times and always loved it. I really wanted to get my start in New York but was happy with being booked in Chicago. It is clean and not too crowded. It is very easy to live in and you have your own space. I felt super blessed when I got the opportunity to come live here for a minute.

WCT: Do you get to go out and enjoy the gay bars?

Pierce Cassedy: Oh, yeah. We go out to Musical Mondays every so often at Sidetrack. I love Roscoe's because I am a big RuPaul's Drag Race fan so I love to see those queens there when I get the chance.

WCT: You have been here for a while.

Pierce Cassedy: We have been here since November so I have seen many drag shows there. Other than that I have been to the Shedd Aquarium and Millennium Park.

WCT: Tell our readers about playing the role of Elder McKinley.

Pierce Cassedy: I love playing this role because I think it is such a prevalent statement. To have a gay Mormon is a reality in the world and closeted homosexuals in general. People are not fooling anyone by trying to be heterosexual if they are gay. It just makes you unhappy. So I feel lucky to play a role that is relevant in today's society. That really makes a difference I think but in a fun way too not so serious.

WCT: Did you know the role before?

Pierce Cassedy: When I auditioned for it I just had my sides and the songs. I just kind of interpreted it my way. For the final callback it was Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez all there. They asked me if I had seen the show and I said no. They couldn't believe it. I told them I am a broke actor living in New York City and it is hard to get a ticket!

When I booked it they had me sit up next to Stephen Oremus, who I didn't know at the time. He had just won a Tony. I got to see Rory O'Malley, who originated the role. I wasn't focusing so much on how he did the role but it was more about I get to do that too. My part has so many shenanigans in the show!

It is nice to do my interpretation of a role. I am the third person to ever play this. I have never seen Grey Henson do it on the tour. I like being able to do my own thing with something and that is nothing I have done before.

WCT: How has the response been?

Pierce Cassedy: It has been great. People are really drawn to the show. I think it is an eye opener for a lot of people but at the same time it is light hearted and satirical. It is so in your face and nothing you have seen before in such a public capacity on a stage. It shocks the hell out of people.

WCT: Some people I know are worried they will be offended. What do you say to them?

Pierce Cassedy: It is not meant to be offensive. It is very opinionated. I am no prude but even when I saw it I was taken aback and gagging at some of the things that are happening on the stage.

At the end of the day we are not saying anything that is not true in the show so it might be a little hard to swallow for some people. I think it is important for people to see Book of Mormon and form their own opinions about it.

WCT: With eight shows a week you must be tired.

Pierce Cassedy: Hell, yeah! I am so tired. We have one day off every week.

WCT: You are not used to that grueling schedule.

Pierce Cassedy: Never. I have never been a part of a Broadway show but it is rewarding. It is tiring but my body has been better. I am working my ass off but I will sleep when I am dead! I am happy to be doing this while I am young and spry.

WCT: That is a good attitude. How is the rest of the cast? I know Ben Platt a bit.

Pierce Cassedy: I love Ben.

WCT: He kind of steals the show.

Pierce Cassedy: He is a brilliant person to work with onstage. Talk about somebody who listening and spontaneous.

He's a gift of a person to work with. He's so young. I am so happy for him and he will have an awesome future in front of him.

Everyone else in the cast is amazing. People wow me with their talent constantly. Everyone is so positive and young. It is a great group of people and kind of like a family including the crew, Trey and Matt.

WCT: Matt Stone and Trey Parker came to the opening, I remember.

Pierce Cassedy: Yes, they worked with us one on one. They are a true inspiration to my life and definitely a highlight so far.

WCT: Have your parents come to see it?

Pierce Cassedy: [Laughs] Yeah, my grandma has even come to see it. So I can check saying "blowing Hitler" in front of them off my bucket list! Pretty much everyone in my family has seen it.

WCT: Were your parents religious?

Pierce Cassedy: Yes. I grew up in a really conservative family, actually. I went to church every Sunday.

WCT: What were you raised?

Pierce Cassedy: I was raised Episcopalian and Christian. Once I accepted the fact that I was gay then I decided that was not what I wanted to believe in. I made my own beliefs, which is another reason that I am happy to be a part of this show because it encourages people to think outside of the box.

As long as you believe in something and we work together it is about making the world a better place now while we are here as opposed to focusing on the after life and whether people will go to heaven or hell. Let's make this our paradise planet as Elder Price says.

WCT: The show will go on to other part of the world.

Pierce Cassedy: Yes, I have heard of a few places but things are confirmed. It will be interesting how the cast plays out.

WCT: You want to stick with "Mormon?"

Pierce Cassedy: I love this job! I want to do it as long as I can. There is nothing I would rather be playing right now as an actor. I get to sing, dance and wear sequins!

The Mormons ring those doorbells in Chicago through Oct. 6 at the Bank of America Theatre before it takes off for a new destination. Visit www.BookofMormonTheMusical.com for more information.


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