BWW Interviews: Gavin Creel on Starring in THE BOOK OF MORMON National Tour!
Gavin Creel is currently starring as 'Elder Price' in the first National Tour of THE BOOK OF MORMON. The actor is a two time Tony nominee for Hair and Thoroughly Modern Millie. He has also appeared in the 2004 Broadway revival of La Cage Aux Folles, the Goodman Theatre/Kennedy Center production of Bounce, as well as Hair and MARY POPPINS on the West End. Most recently he was seen in the title role of the American Repertory Theater production of 'Prometheus Bound', and has also starred alongside Julie Andrews in the television movies, "Eloise at the Plaza" and "Eloise at Christmastime."
In THE BOOK OF MORMON, Creel takes on the role of 'Elder Price,' one of a pair of mismatched Mormon boys sent on a mission to a place that's about as far from Salt Lake City as you can get. The National Tour will travel to over fifteen cities during the 2012-2013 season. The multi-talented actor chatted with BWW about why he is "blissfully happy" performing in this outrageous, yet heart-warming production.
Congratulations on the national tour Gavin!
I was thinking about how your two most recent roles are really on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. How do you transition from a 1960's Vietnam-era Hippie to a modern-day Mormon missionary?
Good question! I was thinking about how 'Hair' and 'Book of Mormon' are similar in some ways as far as what they've meant to the musical theater canon. You know at the time, 'Hair' was a very topical piece. You would turn on the TV and see the news and then go to the theater and the same thing was happening on stage with 'Hair'. And we were trying to think, where does 'Book of Mormon' fit in the scheme of this musical theater canon. And in a way, it's kind of doing the same thing. Unlike a lot of other musicals it's very topical, it's about what's going on in the world right now. I mean weirdly enough, our presidential candidate has his religion and belief systems and it's set today, so it's exciting that way.
And I think that as far as characters go, yeah, they're very different, although the similarity is that they are both very conflicted, although Elder Price doesn't know it until the play starts to unravel and I guess Claude didn't really either but he just hadn't addressed it. As far as the worlds they're in, obviously they are very different and I love that my career has afforded me the opportunity to go from very different characters and very different people. I'm grateful for that.
That's so interesting. Who would have thought that you could draw parallels between the two shows, but I absolutely agree with you.
Well from the wide view there's parallels, when you look at the specifics...
Not so much!
(laughing) Yeah. But I like to think of how exciting it is to be in a piece that kind of pushes buttons, and both of those pieces have done that, so maybe that's my niche - something with energy which also pushes people's buttons.
I'm sure you had a chance to see 'Book of Mormon' on Broadway. What was your reaction the first time you saw it? Was it, 'this is something I'd love to get involved in'?
I mean I loved it, don't get me wrong, but I never thought I would be in it. I saw it and I thought, 'that's something that's happening over there and it's happening with my friends.' I just never considered that it would be a part that might come up for me. And I love that about life, how it keeps surprising me, you know?
I have good friends who convinced me to take a look at it a little closer and said, 'you'd be an idiot not to do this show.' But again, it's kind of like a life lesson, and I think making a plan for your life is sort of futile. I would have kept a really incredible opportunity at bay because of what - my ego? my plan? And what has happened is something that's just been better than anything I could have imagined. I feel really lucky.
Oh yes. He gave me bits of advice here and there and overall he just gave me love and support. I'd call him and I'd be like, "Why? Why did you sing this so high?" (laughing) and he'd just scream, "go for it!" Have you seen [Rannells' new TV series] 'The New Normal' yet?
I love that show and he is such a stand-out in it.
He's the best one in it! And the cast is incredible but he is a superstar.
You're right. To be able to stand out amongst a cast like that.
Yeah. I mean he's just incredible. The last episode was so beautiful. And he just takes it all in stride.
The only thing is, we miss him here on Broadway. That's the bad news.
Oh he'll be back. He'll be back.
But I'm sure you wanted to try to put your own original stamp on the character of Elder Price.
You know, I saw Andrew in previews. And I was not able to watch the show because I was just staring at my friends going, 'Look at em go, Look at em go!" And then I saw it again with my sister on Thanksgiving almost a year later, but I also don't remember that so much either because I was sitting next to my sister and I was like, 'Isn't it amazing?" So those were the only two times that I saw it before we started rehearsal.
I just sort of felt like I didn't remember stuff exactly. You know, when I read the script I definitely heard Andrew's voice because he had such a specific way and in my head I could hear certain lines but I just read the part and thought about, 'Who is this person? How should I do it?' And then Casey [Nicholaw] and Trey [Parker] definitely would advise me if it worked. I said to them, 'If something works, tell me what to do and I'll do it." But otherwise, it was weird cause I'd be doing it and I just assumed I was doing it exactly like Andrew, even though I couldn't really remember what he did, and so many people came up to me and were like, "Oh my God, you're making this your own." and I was like, "I am?"
So yeah, I'm just doing what I think I should be doing, and what the directors wanted and then I guess what people are finding or seeing is that I am making it my own, although I don't really understand what that means.
Are you expecting different reactions as you tour from city to city?
I think it's going to be interesting to see how people receive it. I think we're not sitting in any peculiar place long enough to see the population who might just come to say, "Oh I heard it's a musical, let's see what this is about" and then be shocked. But I think the producers did a smart thing because they booked a lot of cities for shorter times and we'll sell out and get the buzz going and then we'll come back around maybe. I think the reaction will be different, but it will be exciting to see what does Rochester think, and what does Detroit think, and what does Toronto think. It's us just playing the truth of the show and letting them have their reaction. We don't have to endure it for too long, we'll just move on to the next city and see what they think!
I remember when you and the cast of 'Hair' moved to the West End there was a period where you had to adjust to the different reactions of the British audiences.
Yes, it was very different, but after a while we got used to it and then that was our show. This show is so well written that in a lot of ways it's foolproof. The minute we try to change the show for the audience, we're sunk. We have to play the play and let them come along. Tell the story and let them find it, instead of trying to smack 'em over the head with it - cause that's when comedy just goes terribly wrong.
Do you have any time to work on your music in your busy schedule?
Right now it's taking a back seat because I'm so tired. The show's a lot of work and my dog's a lot of work! It's funny, I'm pretty independent now with my time. I like creating stuff and projects, but at the same time, I do like sometimes just having a routine with somebody else telling me where to go, what time to be there. It's kind of freeing and I'm blissfully, blissfully happy doing that right now. Having a great job that they say, 'you have to be there at this time, and I show up a little before that so I can stretch my old bones and act like I'm 19. And then a great cast, a great show that you can just show up and tell a story. It would be different if I didn't know or believe that the piece is so well-written and so well-directed and put together. But I don't think that I would go on the road with a show that wasn't like that. If you're going to go on the road with anything, this is the play to do it.
Are you having as much fun as it looks like you are from the audience?
More! Oh my gosh - there's never a dull moment. Sometimes when I do a musical they'll be a scene that comes up and I'm like, 'Oh, I hate this scene' but you get through it. But here they'll be a scene where I'm like, 'oh good, the next scene, I love this one.'
And there's also no time to be bored. Sometimes you'll be in a show and you have a ten minute stretch where you'll be sitting in your dressing room but there's nothing like that in this play. The down side to that is that it's exhausting. I remember the other night Jared [Gertner] and I are like huffing and puffing and I looked at him and said, 'what time is it now?' And he said 'its 8:57" and I went, "this is the first time we've sat down since we've come off stage." It was about an hour in and we'd been moving solid, coming off and going on, coming off and grab something, go back on. So that was the first time we actually stopped and sat and I was like, 'This is awesome. I'm going to lose weight!" And I have unfortunately, I'm a very trim Elder Price!
And what you're saying about every scene being great applies to the cast recording as well. Usually there's a song that you'll skip over because you're not that fond of it, but I find that I love every single song on the cast recording.
They're great songs to sing. I think it's also because they vary in style and they each have a humor about them and you're like, 'oh gosh, this one's really fun too.' Even Samantha's [Marie Ware] ballad, 'Sal Tlay Ka Siti', it has heartbreaking moments and then humor follows right after. My favorite lyric is "Salt Lake City/The most perfect place on Earth/The flies don't bite your eyeballs/And human life has worth." Flies don't bite your eyeballs is like ridiculous and you laugh, and then the next line kind of grabs your heart.
And that's kind of the greatest example of the play, in the way it switches. People who aren't as observant, they'll just hear all the profanity and they'll hear the ridiculousness and they'll see the over the top characters all buttoned up with slick hair and smiles. But I think what really succeeds is this sort of osmosis, I don't know if that's the right phrase, but it kind of washes over you in a way that maybe some people don't realize, although a lot do, what's happening on stage. They're talking about Africa in a really funny way but it's sadly really happening in the world. It's actually happening. You know there's genocide in the name of 'casting out abominations', and I'm like 'Are you kidding me? What's wrong with these people?' It's actually happening and then we follow it up with a jazz hand and a high kick.
But in the show, everything has meaning. Watching Trey and Matt [Stone] and Bobby [Lopez] and Casey craft it that way was what was so inspiring in rehearsal. Trey once said, "don't move yet, make sure they understand what you're saying at this point and then move because otherwise they'll just think we're trying to be ridiculous and we're not." And that was the biggest surprise for me because you just think 'South Park' and 'shock and awe' and actually everything has a point not just to say 'oh poop, shit, fart' whatever. It's like everything has a meaning. That's what makes the piece so good.
And that's really the big surprise about the show.
Yeah, you don't expect to be moved by it and then you're like, 'Holy crap!'
You participated in a reading for 'Pippin' about a year or so ago and there have been persistant rumors swirling around about a possible revival coming to Broadway. Any updates?
There is going to be a version at A.R.T. The reading that I did is that production and sadly I wasn't able to put my hat in the ring for it. But it's Diane [Paulus] and the gang, and I know a couple of cast members and I have heard of the guy they cast as Pippin and I think it's probably going to be incredible. So I hope it transfers for the sake of the piece and for Diane because I believe in her and what they're doing up at A.R.T. You should try to get up and see it. I'm anxious to see it myself. I know it'll be fantastic and the ideas that Diane has for it are going to blow people away.
Well I can't wait to see you as Elder Price when the tour passes close to the New York area.
We'll be a well-oiled machine by then! I think the country is going to be very pleased. I'm very proud of this production. I can vouch that this production is awesome and the people involved and who put it together have made a first-rate production.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus